If you have been receiving state unemployment benefits since March, chances are you just got (or are about to get) the dreaded letter that your Pa. unemployment benefits — which end after 26 weeks — are about to run out.
“Anyone who opened their claim in the middle of March is set to run out of their benefits in early to mid-September,” said Susan Dickinson, director of Pennsylvania’s office of unemployment compensation.
That’s up to 2 million people in Pennsylvania.
While it certainly feels dire, don’t panic, Dickinson said.
Under the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation Extended Benefits Program (PEUC), a part of the CARES Act, you are eligible for an additional 13 weeks — roughly three months — of unemployment benefits. The last time Emergency Unemployment Compensation was activated in the United States was in 2008.
After you are paid the balance of your unemployment benefits, the state’s office of unemployment will automatically add 13 weeks of extended benefits. So if you applied after the pandemic started, you don’t have to reapply.
You will, however, have to continue your biweekly filing, similar to regular unemployment.
If you were receiving unemployment benefits before the pandemic started and you haven’t been able to find work as a result of it, you may also be eligible for the additional 13 weeks of unemployment benefits through the extended benefits program. In this case, you have to apply. Those forms can be found here or at www.uc.pa.gov.
Note: The extended benefits program is only available to Pennsylvanians through the end of December. So, for example, if you applied for unemployment in August and your 26 weeks runs out in February 2021, you will not be eligible for this extended benefits program.
There may be other benefits coming, too. President Donald Trump has approved $44 billion from FEMA’s Disaster Relief Fund to be allocated to Americans who have lost wages because of COVID-19. Trump authorized the program last week after Congress failed to strike a deal on supplemental benefits before the August recess.
This is the Lost Wages Assistance Program.
The LWA program isn’t a true unemployment insurance program because the money was initially intended for storm disaster relief. So payments will be delayed because states, including Pennsylvania and New Jersey, need to create new systems to deal with the payments.
The LWA program is separate from the CARES Act. And, Dickinson, says, once the $44 billion runs out, it’s gone. “The FEMA money is limited even though it has been authorized through the end of the year,” Dickinson said. “There is a chance it won’t take us through the end of the year.”