Broke in Philly

What you need to know about filing for unemployment in PA right now

You might be able to get benefits even if you’re not yet laid off.

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Mark Henninger / Imagic Digital
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If you’re out of a job because of coronavirus-related business closures, you could get unemployment or worker’s comp pay.

Apply for benefits immediately if you’re in that situation, Philly and Pennsylvania officials say. In the wake of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the state has changed requirements so more people will qualify for benefits. (See below for what steps to take.)

But for applicants like Nicole DeJessa, a restaurant server who lives in Philly’s Pennsport neighborhood, the typical unemployment application questions are causing confusion during this atypical situation.

Some of the industries hit hardest by the global pandemic’s arrival in the Philly region have been hospitality, events and food service. Restaurants, which felt the strain even before the city and state mandated they close, are now reeling after being limited to pickup and delivery service.

DeJessa said that before the business shut down, her final paycheck with tips was one-tenth of its usual rate because of the coronavirus slowdown. Still, her unemployment application required her to input the amount of money she made the week before her last day of work on Monday.

The application also asks for the date a worker will return to work, which no one knows, DeJessa said.

“I love where I work. I can’t wait to go back to work,”  DeJessa told Billy Penn. “But I don’t have a letter that says we’re going to reopen on this date. I don’t want to put down anything untruthful, because that can delay my claim.”

Questions on the application didn’t reflect COVID-19-related job loss, and still ask about an applicant’s ability to search for a new job even though this shutdown should be temporary and a note on the benefits webpage said work search requirements are suspended.

Either way, for many left in the coronavirus career limbo, unemployment is the best route for some source of income. Several employers within the city, including ShopRite and ALDI, are also hiring temp workers to manage increased demand.

According to Spotlight PA, more than 120,000 people filed for unemployment in just two days at the start of the shutdown.

Here’s what we know about how to do it.

Who’s eligible for unemployment?

Philly workers left scrambling may be eligible for unemployment benefits if:

  • Your employer temporarily closes or goes out of business because of COVID-19.
  • Your hours have been reduced because of COVID-19.
  • You have been told not to work because your employer feels you might have or spread COVID-19.
  • You have been told by your doctor to quarantine or self-isolate
  • You live or work in a county under government-recommended mitigation efforts.

Am I eligible even if I’m not laid off?

Philadelphians can also file for worker’s compensation if they 1) believe they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 at work or 2) believe they have a higher risk of COVID-19 exposure due to job requirements.

To get this benefit, though, you can’t be the one to file. The instigation has to come from your employer, who’ll need to submit a “disease-as-injury” or “occupational disease” claim.

What benefits changed because of COVID-19?

According to Pa.’s Office of Unemployment Compensation’s COVID-19 and FAQ pages, the state has eliminated the normal week-long wait time, so eligible residents can get paid for the first week they’re affected.

The office is also waiving work search requirements, so people don’t have to prove they’re looking for a job in order to receive benefits — but so far the application hasn’t been updated to reflect this.

Susan Dickinson, director of policy at the Unemployment Compensation Office, said inapplicable questions like that, and the one about when workers expect to return to their jobs, won’t hold up a claim.

“They can put in an estimate,” Dickinson said on a phone press briefing.

There’s no way to know when the application language will be updated, Dickinson said, because it’s very difficult to change the benefits application system. “We’re trying to get the word out there…the rules have changed,” Dickinson said.

Officials said the best way to ask specific questions about benefits is via email at uchelp@pa.gov, as phone lines have been flooded with new unemployment applicants.

The unemployment office will be holding live Twitter and Facebook chats to answer questions that way.

How do I file?

The quickest way to file is online, but workers can also file via mail, over videophone every Wednesday from noon to 4 p.m. for deaf applicants, or over the phone.

Make sure you have these necessary documents and info:

  • Your social security number.
  • Your home address and, if different from the home, your mailing address.
  • Your phone number and email address.
  • Employer info and employment history including gross earnings during your last week of employment, if available.

When will I get money?

If approved, benefits should arrive two to four weeks after filing an application. They’ll come via direct deposit or a debit card.

How much will I receive?

Weekly benefits should equal about one-half of your full-time weekly wage, according to the unemployment benefits website.

Where can I apply for a job right now?

GoPuff, a goods delivery service launched in Philly, is hiring dozens of jobs in the city. Apply here. They’re also hiring thousands of delivery drivers around the country. Learn more about GoPuff driver positions and apply here.

Amazon is hiring for more than 400 jobs in the Greater Philadelphia Metro area, a spokesperson told Billy Penn. Apply here.

ShopRite is hiring workers “displaced from [their] regular routine.” Apply here.

Giant and Giant Heirloom have immediate openings for cashiers, stock clerks, drivers (no CDL required), cashiers and fulfillment center positions. A spokesperson could not say how many positions were being hired locally. Apply here or see a store manager for more info.

Aldi is hiring in all of its stores and warehouses. Right now there are 35 job listings for Philadelphia on the jobs site. Apply here.

Fresh Grocer is hiring additional staff due to increased shopper volume, a spokesperson told Billy Penn. According to the website, the store is hiring for cashier, clerk, maintenance and overnight positions in each of its Philadelphia locations. Apply here.

Philadelphia- and New Jersey-based produce delivery service Misfits Market is immediately hiring 100 Philly area workers at a rate of $16 an hour, no skills required. Apply here.

A Domino’s spokesperson said the company wants to fill 700 jobs across the Philly region. Apply here.

Acme Markets has been hiring with immediate openings at all of its locations. Apply here or visit your local Acme grocery store.

Walgreens is hiring customer service associates, pharmacy technicians and shift leads in locations across America and in Philadelphia stores, according to its website. Apply here.

CVS seeks to hire 1,000 store associates, home delivery drivers, distribution center employees and customer service professionals in the Philadelphia area starting immediately, a spokesperson told Billy Penn. The pharmacy chain will hold virtual interviews and job fairs to make it happen, according to a release. CVS is prioritizing hiring workers furloughed by CVS Health clients including Hilton and Marriott. Apply here.

Want some more? Explore other Broke in Philly stories.

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