From PA Chamber of Business & Industry
State Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak provided an update on how his department is handling unemployment compensation payouts amid a wave of jobless claims resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic.
The hearing focused on ongoing problems that have marked the last several months – department delays related to determinations on UC claims; claimant difficulties connecting with the department; and continued delays to modernizing the state’s aging UC computer system.
According to a story on the hearing by Capitolwire, Sec. Oleksiak encountered tough questions from several members on the committee who shared stories of constituents in dire financial straits due to not having received any UC payments since the spring. Oleksiak agreed that such delays – which he estimated represent around 3 percent, or 50,000 claims – are “unacceptable” and are being held up due to fraud concerns and unresolved eligibility questions. He also said that L&I has worked to remedy the backlog by increasing the number of staffers handling claims; hiring an outside firm to gather claims evidence and help hearing examiners make determinations; installing plexiglass partitions to accommodate more staffing; and upgrading work-from-home software for other department personnel. Despite these efforts, many committee members urged further action to help address dire cases that are reported to their office.
In regard to the ongoing and long-delayed upgrade to the state’s UC computer systems, Oleksiak said there is no set date to go live with the new system, and that the most recent delay was advised by the federal Department of Labor.
According to a Pennlive story, Sec. Oleksiak was also asked whether the department is prepared to handle more challenges, including in the event of another business shutdown. State Rep. Kate Klunk stated that she has sent a number of Right-to-Know requests to the department in order to gain an understanding of how much communication occurred prior to the business shutdown order in March, and to gauge how ready L&I was to handle the onslaught of people put out of work. Oleksiak replied that the department will answer Rep. Klunk’s questions and added that the department is doing an internal review of its handling of the situation. Klunk said, “We need to make sure that if this happens again that we are ready to go and can deliver for the people of Pennsylvania.”