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(Commonwealth of Pennsylvania photo)
One day after a local state representative went public with his criticism over the slow rollout of unemployment benefits for some Pennsylvania workers, the website went live and began accepting applications.
On Saturday, Jerry Oleksiak, state Secretary of Labor & Industry, said that the self-employed, independent contractors and gig workers who cannot file for regular unemployment compensation can now begin applying for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance benefits.
Applications can be filed online at https://pua.benefits.uc.pa.gov/.
The PUA program was authorized under the federal pandemic stimulus program approved in March by the U.S. Congress.
State Rep. Austin Davis, McKeesport Democrat, had criticized the state’s slow response in a statement issued Friday.
In an April 8 letter to Oleksiak, Davis noted that neighboring states such as New York had already issued guidance to their residents on how to apply for PUA benefits.
An L&I spokeswoman said the department “anticipates a high volume of applications over the next few days which may temporarily slow the system,” but that officials expect to begin making payments to approved claimants within two to four weeks.
The PUA program will provide up to 39 weeks of unemployment insurance for people who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus shutdown, but who do not normally qualify for benefits, including the self-employed, so-called “gig workers,” clergy and some other employees of religious organizations, independent contractors, and people without a sufficient work history to qualify for regular unemployment compensation.
The spokeswoman said applicants must be able to document their income. Acceptable proof may include copies of recent paycheck stubs, bank deposit receipts, 1099 forms, billing notices provided to clients or customers, recent advertisements for their business, statements from their customers, business licenses and contracts or leases.
Applicants also will have to document that they lost work due to the coronavirus pandemic, either because they were forced to stay home due to illness or isolation instructions; because their child’s school or daycare closed; or because the work they were doing was discontinued due to Gov. Tom Wolf’s “stay-at-home” order, the L&I spokeswoman said.
Benefits will not exceed the current state maximum weekly payout of $572. However, recipients of PUA benefits also will receive the additional $600 per week from the federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program, effective from the week ending April 4, 2020 through the week ending July 25, 2020.
People without Internet access, or who do not speak English fluently, will need to use a special phone number to apply, the L&I spokeswoman said, but the hotline is not yet available.
Questions about the PUA program may be emailed to UCPUA@pa.gov.
Originally published April 19, 2020.