FEMA’s lost wages assistance program funds dry up before Pennsylvanians receive first checks

  • Kiley Koscinski/WESA

(Pittsburgh) — According to Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry, funds provided by the federal Lost Wages Assistance program, which offers an extra $300 per week to qualified unemployment recipients, have run out. The Federal Emergency Management Agency-run program – which was initially slated to run through December, or until funds were depleted – will now only cover a span of six weeks.

Qualified claimants have not yet received their first checks.

The state received $1.5 billion as part of the LWA program. In a town hall Thursday, state Labor and Industry Department secretary Jerry Oleksiak said the state was notified this week that the claim week ending Sept. 5 is the final week for the benefit. The special assistance program was a temporary provision meant to replace the $600 per week benefit established under the CARES Act. That benefit expired in July.

July’s unemployment numbers showed the rate of Pennsylvanians out of work remained above 13 percent.

Qualified claimants are those who were unemployed due to the coronavirus pandemic between Aug. 1 and Sept. 5. The state began making payments to those who automatically qualified and those who have already applied Thursday.

Claimants can expect to receive payment as early as Monday.

Those who have already certified that the pandemic caused them to lose their job will automatically receive the extra compensation. Those who wish to apply must have a weekly benefit rate totaling $100 or more and be receiving weekly payment from one of the following programs:

  • Regular Unemployment Compensation (UC);
  • Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC);
  • Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA);
  • Pennsylvania Extended Benefits (EB);
  • Shared-Work or Short-Time Compensation (STC); and
  • Trade Readjustment Allowances (TRA).

Individuals receiving benefits from these programs will need to apply for Lost Wages Assistance by certifying that their unemployment is due to COVID-19. PUA claimants do not have to apply because they previously certified they were unemployed due to COVID-19 and will receive payments automatically. Employers in a Shared-Work program must provide the required certification on behalf of all participating employees.

According to Susan Dickinson, director of the state Office of Unemployment Compensation Benefits Policy, claimants will only need to certify once that their unemployment is a result of the pandemic.

“We’re urging anyone who was partially or fully unemployed due to COVID-19, and hasn’t already applied for these benefits, to apply as soon as you can,” Oleksiak said Thursday. “We will continue making those retroactive payments for the claim weeks of August 1st through September 5th for the forseeable future.”

Claimants can expect a lump sum payment for the weeks they are eligible between Aug. 1 and Aug. 29. A Labor and Industry Department spokesperson said the week ending Sept. 5 may be paid out separately.

In this May 6, 2020 photo, a sign stands outside the Department of Labor's headquarters in Washington.

Patrick Semansky / AP Photo

In this May 6, 2020 photo, a sign stands outside the Department of Labor’s headquarters in Washington.

While FEMA’s funding has been depleted, the Department of Labor and Industry has not yet paid out the $1.5 billion it received as part of the assistance program. Officials encourage qualified claimants to apply for the additional compensation as soon as possible.

More information on eligibility requirements and questions about the unemployment process can be found on the state’s unemployment website.

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