Unemployment problems arise amidst COVID-19 pandemic

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WILKES-BARRE, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) – The COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact all sectors of our communities and our daily lives.

Hundreds of thousands of unemployed Pennsylvanians are still waiting for unemployment compensation benefits. State officials have admitted in recent weeks that the system is overwhelmed.

“There are thousands of us that are struggling and we don’t know what to do.”

Jacob Crider, from Shippensburg, lost his job as a restaurant manager late last year and was about to start a new job in April, but that didn’t happen because of the COVID-19 pandemic. So he applied for what’s called Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation, which is funded with federal dollars but administered by the commonwealth.

But Crider, like hundreds of thousands of other unemployed Pennsylvanians, are finding it a big-time challenge to apply for those benefits because of the sheer volume of calls and emails being handled by the State Department of Labor and Industry. He hasn’t seen a penny in benefits, his financial future is uncertain.

“I have an emergency food supply down in my basement area. The electric bill is coming May 25th. You know there’s just a lot of uncertainty.”

State Senator John Yudichak says his office receives calls and emails every day from unemployed residents.

“The state is way behind. We still have a 38 day lag in email requests. That’s the number one complaint that I’m hearing in my office. Folks that can’t get through, can’t get a check from unemployment compensation benefits, it’s unacceptable.“

Officials from The State Department of Labor and Industry admitted in March the system was overwhelmed, that no one could have foreseen the impact the COVID-19 pandemic would have on Pennsylvania.

“So when you go from 34,000 applying in a month to 1.8 million in 30 days the system was overwhelmed and the administration did not have a game plan in place to help unemployed workers.”

In recent weeks state officials say they have hired additional workers and are working on improvements to its computer systems to better deal with the high demand. Lawmakers, like Yudichak, say that’s a start, but insist it’s not enough.

“We continue to press in the General Assembly Republicans and Democrats to press the Wolf administration to hire more people and to move to technologies. Unfortunately, they weren’t ready.”

Senator Yudichak tells Eyewitness News that he has been told that right now around 450,000 unemployed Pennsylvanians are being impacted in one way or another by the current backlog in the unemployment compensation system.

To visit the PA Department of Labors website, CLICK HERE.

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