WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU-TV) — The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact virtually every aspect of our society and our daily lives. For many people, the pandemic has forced them out of work.
Questions and concerns are being raised across the commonwealth and our region regarding access to the unemployment benefits. Many people have reached out to the Eyewitness News I-Team to look into the situation.
Frustration, disgust and in some cases, downright anger — that’s what we are hearing from people who reached out to the I-Team.
They say they understand that COVID-19 presents unprecedented challenges, but they insist that Pennsylvania officials must do more to get help those folks who are in dire straits.
“400,000 people that are having a hard time paying their bills paying their mortgage, paying their rent, putting food on the table for their children. That’s unacceptable,” said State Senator John Yudichak.
Senator Yudichak says more has to be done to get help, namely unemployment compensation benefits, to those people who lost their jobs either directly or indirectly because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
People like Michael from Kelayres in Schuylkill County.
“We can’t get through to unemployment. That’s an issue that needs to be resolved,” he said.
Michael lost his factory job in December and tells the I-Team he has been unable to reach anyone from the PA Department of Labor and Industry regarding his claim.
“I start at 7:58 in the morning sometimes before that. I’m averaging on average 3,000 calls a day. The one day I did 6,000. I still get a busy signal.”
The I-Team called the number on the Department of Labor and Industry website and got the same result, over and over again.
Michael did file a claim online but has not heard back. He says he’s on the financial ropes.
“I’m going to be broke. I’m using my only savings and my checking now to pay my bills I mean if I didn’t save that where would I turn? I don’t know.”
Senator Yudichak says the state has paid out a record $33 billion in unemployment compensation benefits since the COVID-19 pandemic hit last year. But he insists the state’s system is outdated.
“Several administrations have failed to invest in the infrastructure at the department of labor and industry and because of those failures, Pennsylvanians that are hurting are paying a high price for that.”
Senator Yudichak adds that complicating the situation is the fact that just today the state announced that those folks who normally are not eligible for unemployment compensation, such as freelancers and online workers, or gig workers, can start to reapply for federally funded program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA).
Last year the Department of Labor and Industry added more staff to handle the huge jump in unemployment claims. Officials at that that time said they went from handling around 100,000 claims in six months to nearly 90,000 a week.
The I-Team reached out to the Department of Labor and Industry for comment on the situation, we have not yet heard back.