Kate Giammarise / WESA
Kate shares the economic impact of COVID-19.
For nearly five years she covered poverty, social services, and affordable housing in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette; prior to that, she spent several years in the newspaper’s office in Harrisburg for the legislature, governor and state government.
She was part of the PG team that won the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for breaking news reporting on the mass shootings at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh. She has won numerous state and local awards for her reporting and was honored with a Keystone Media Award 2020 for her beat reporting on poverty.
She previously reported for several Ohio newspapers and reported on the steel industry for a trade journal.
July 20, 2021 | 3:26 pm
(Pittsburgh) – Attorneys for unemployed Pennsylvanians gathered in downtown Pittsburgh on Tuesday calling on the state Department of Labor and Industry to restore unemployment benefits they claim have been wrongly suspended for thousands of claimants.
“You can’t cut them off without giving them the opportunity to fight for their benefit without giving them a decision and letting them fight for an appeal,” said Barney Oursler, citing a US Supreme Court case. Oursler heads the Mont Valley Unemployment Committee, an advocacy group.
A Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry spokesman said it would “actively review claims made by applicants that their services have been suspended.”
The state took a giant step forward in June with a $ 35 million modernization project that replaced the state’s decade-old computer system with a more modern one.
A report submitted to the state legislature by a modernization advisory committee earlier this month found that the benefits of modernizing Pennsylvania had been relatively smooth compared to other similar projects across the country. However, the report found that filings have decreased significantly, suggesting that not all applicants will be able to submit in the new system. This group was pointed out by Oursler and other supporters on Tuesday.
“It’s just a messed up situation,” said Ed Jackson, who was fired from a job in the restaurant business. “Because then they tell people, ‘You get your check.’ But believers and that don’t want to hear that. “
Jackson said his benefits were suspended after the switch to the new system until the Mont Valley Unemployment Committee helped him restore them.
“Unemployment was designed so that people would not lose their homes, bring food to the table and give them hope of where to go,” said Darrin Kelly, president of the Allegheny-Fayette Central Labor Council.
The Department of Labor and Industry announced that it has made nearly 1.6 million payments totaling over $ 1.37 billion since the new system was launched on June 8.
“These statistics show that individuals successfully claim and receive their benefits every week through the new unemployment benefit system,” said Penny Ickes, a ministry spokeswoman.
Following a wave of unemployed Pennsylvanians filing government-mandated public health claims over the past year, the state unemployment system has struggled to distinguish legitimate claims from fraudulent ones, to pay back claims, and has been followed by a surge in fraudulent claims the recent introduction of a new online submission system.
The ministry also recently announced it had overpayed unemployment overpayments; It exposed the bug after investigative news organization Spotlight PA asked for comment before planning to publish a story on the subject. The department was also criticized last year for almost constant busy signals on phone lines, leaving many unemployed Pennsylvanians unable to reach anyone in the Department of Labor and Industry to help with problems.
“The Pennsylvania unemployment system is failing the unemployed in this state,” Oursler said.
Laura Benshoff from WHYY contributed to this report.