Jerry Oleksiak

Jerry Oleksiak

The pandemic is surging, unemployment remains rampant and a new president has been elected.

People are in need of help during these roiling times – especially financial help. And while the state Department of Labor & Industry is striving to do its part, L&I’s secretary is urging the federal government to do the same.

“We’re advocating an extension of CARES Act programs,” Jerry Oleksiak said during the Nov. 9 L&I’s virtual weekly news conference. The act, signed into law March 27 by President Donald Trump, provides benefits to workers whose jobs have been impacted by the global coronavirus pandemic.

Oleksiak and Susan Dickinson, the department’s unemployment compensation policy director, spoke specifically about two federal programs that are targeted to close in late December – seven weeks from now.

They are the Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, which provides 13 weeks of additional jobless benefits for individuals whose regular UC payments ended on or after July 6, 2019, and the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program for self-employed, independent contractors, gig workers and others who are not eligible for regular UC.

“We’re advocating an extension of the CARES programs,” Oleksiak said. “Without that, things will become very, very difficult for our citizens when the programs end.”

Thus far, here have been no indications Congress and the current administration will provide that extension.

“Questions should be directed to members of Congress,” Oleksiak said. “We’re willing to work with the current or new administration. An extension would be better for everyone, and better for our economy at a time that a lot of things are happening.”

Dickinson said L&I has paid $6.1 billion in PUA benefits and $637.8 million through the PEUC program.

The news conference occurred three days after L&I announced it is expanding the period residents can backdate UC claims from six weeks to up to 52 weeks. It is a temporary change to accommodate claimants who, during the initial weeks of the pandemic, needed assistance with filing, but were unable to contact a staffer because of a surge in new applications.

That resulted in a higher-than-usual number of individuals who had to request backdated claims.

Since March 15, the state has paid more than $30.5 billion in UC benefits. About $5.8 billion of that has been for regular UC and more than $25 billion for CARES programs.

L&I will have its 25th – and next-to-last – weekly town hall at 1 p.m. Thursday. It is open to the public, by calling 833-380-0719 or live-streaming at https://access.live/PAlabor.

Staff Writer

Rick Shrum joined the Observer-Reporter as a reporter in 2012, after serving as a section editor, sports reporter and copy editor at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Rick has won seven individual writing awards, including two Golden Quills.

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