Pa. unemployment claim numbers are rising again

Written by on July 7, 2020

 Pa. unemployment claim numbers are rising again

By Margaret Krauss, WESA & Laura Benshoff, WHYY

July 7, 2020

Unemployment benefits applications numbers are creeping up again in Pennsylvania, as the pandemic recovery wobbles.

“In the past few weeks there has been an uptick,” said Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak. The week ending June 13 had the smallest number of new claims since the pandemic started, with 43,874 first-time applications filed. Since then, each week has had more than 51,000 new applications.

“The primary industry that we’re seeing impacted is the hospitality/leisure industry,” said Oleksiak. Based on the most recent number of new claims by industry available, hospitality was third in terms of new applications, but first in continuing claims, one measure of how many people are actively receiving unemployment benefits. Since May 2019, the hospitality and leisure industry has lost 52.1% of its jobs, according to a department spokesperson.

Since the start of the pandemic, the food service industry, such as bars and restaurants, has hemorrhaged jobs. Unsteady progress towards controlling the virus led several parts of the commonwealth to step back from reopening plans in recent weeks.

Allegheny County officials announced that starting July 3, they would shut down bars, restaurants and casinos for a week, amid a spike in new cases. Philadelphia officials also walked away from plans to reopen restaurant dining rooms at reduced capacity.

Department of Labor and Industry officials did not immediately share how many of the new applications came from restaurant workers.

Since April, unemployment in the commonwealth has been at a record high. Officials shared that with the start of July, the state entered a new benefits quarter, changing the look-back period the department uses to calculate how much unemployment someone is eligible to receive.

“Now that we’re in a new quarter, that means that individuals who previously may not have qualified for unemployment compensation … they may qualify now,” said Susan Dickinson, director of the Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy. People receiving assistance through programs other than traditional unemployment, such as Pandemic Unemployment Assistance — a new program for gig workers, part-timers and other more irregular workers — may have their benefits “held temporarily” while the department investigates whether they qualify for traditional unemployment instead.

However, some applicants may currently be receiving an erroneous denial message. Dickinson said that’s because of a technical error with the vendor’s software.

“The message that people are getting is actually the message that other states who use the products of this vendor have turned on for their state,” she said. “So that’s being turned off.”

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