An additional form of assistance is available in the 27 counties covered by the federal disaster declarations for Hurricane Irene and Tropical Storm Lee. People who are unable to work because of damage caused by the severe storms and flooding may be eligible for federal disaster unemployment assistance if they live in one of those counties.
Patrick Beatty, Deputy Secretary for Unemployment Compensation at the Department of Labor and Industry, says the deadline to apply is October 14th. He says DUA is completely funded by the federal government and applies to those who have lost their jobs as a direct result of the storm and would not be covered under the state’s unemployment compensation law.
Beatty says it’s also available for people who have suffered an illness or injury as a direct result of the disaster and cannot work. He says the program also applies to those who are self-employed.
People can file by calling 1-877-FILE-DUA or by going to one of the Disaster Recovery Centers being established in Bradford, Columbia, Dauphin, Lycoming, Luzerne, Sullivan or Wyoming Counties.
People who are out of work because of the storm, but are covered by the state’s unemployment compensation law, should apply for regular benefits.
A new company is administering Pennsylvania’s unemployment insurance debit cards, and new terms of service are in place. According to Department of Labor & Industry spokesman Sean Yeakle, the new agreement offers more free withdrawals and more ATM locations. “More than 430,000 Pennsylvanians receive unemployment compensation through a debit card, and under the terms of service governing this new program we estimate they’re going to safe about $3.5-million dollars in fees.”
“That’s money that will go back into the economy and serve struggling Pennsylvanians and their families,” Treasurer Rob McCord said in a statement. The Department of Labor & Industry and Treasury Department had been working together to reduce fees – many of which are uncommon to traditional debit card users – under the new agreement with ACS.
Under the new service terms, Wells-Fargo ATMs will now be considered out-of network. PNC Bank and MoneyPass ATMs will be considered in-network. Gone is the “denial fee,” which had been applied if an attempted withdrawal exceeded available funds. However, out-of-network ATM transactions will see fees increase from $1.50 to $1.75. Impacted Pennsylvanians can learn more online.
Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system started going “paperless” in 2007. Today, all payments are made electronically. “That’s definitely saving Pennsylvania taxpayers money in terms of the millions of dollars associated with printing and mailing the checks, and it’s also reduces the opportunity for fraud,” Yeakle says.
Governor Tom Corbett has signed a bill to ensure the continuation of a federally funded, 13 week period of unemployment compensation benefits. Senate Bill 1030 also makes reforms that will save Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation fund an estimated $133 million annually.
The Governor called it good legislation and an important step toward reforming Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation law.
Governor Corbett says while the reforms will benefit employers and the workforce, there remains more to do, in the long-term, to restore the trust fund’s solvency and repay the state’s federal loans.
The Department of Labor and Industry says extended benefits claimants should file next week, starting on Sunday, as they normally would.
Without the Governor’s signature, about 45,000 claimants would have lost the extended benefits.
State lawmakers passed the bill just in time to ensure that the federal extended benefits program continues. “We are getting it done literally under the wire, but it’s an important fix to do for the 45,000 folks who would otherwise lose 13-weeks of unemployment compensation,” says State Senator John Gordner (R-Columbia). Gordner chairs the Labor & Industry Committee, helped to broker a major compromise between chambers and joins us for this week’s Radio PA Roundtable program.
The bill represents the biggest reforms to Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system in the last 20-years. “We were the only state left without an enforceable work search provision,” Gordner tells us. It also freezes the maximum weekly benefit at $573-dollars. Gordner says that provision slows down the growth of benefits. “So, those 20% that are at the top level are not going to be losing benefits, but we’ve basically put in a freeze for a year, and then a 1% cap on the growth of that system.” The average weekly benefit is currently $310-dollars.
Also, individuals who get severance pay beyond $17,853 (40% of the average salary) won’t be able to concurrently receive unemployment compensation benefits.
The package will save the state’s unemployment compensation system $114-million dollars next year. However, PA borrowed over $4-billion dollars from the federal government in order to meet its UC obligations during the recession. Gordner calls it a “good start” in paying that money back. “We still need to do a solvency measure. The problem with this drill was that we were under a time element and we got to the last day in order to do it.” Gordner tells us he’ll work with State Rep. Ron Miller (R-York), who chairs the House Labor & Industry Committee, to come up with a long-term solvency package.
The House approved the final version of SB 1030 on Thursday. The Senate did likewise on Friday. Both votes were unanimous. Governor Tom Corbett is expected to quickly sign the bill into law.
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