Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) was passed by Congress as part of the CARES Act to provide unemployment compensation (UC) benefits to people who have been left out of the unemployment system – including gig workers like ridesharing drivers, self-employed people, independent contractors, and people with limited wage records. This new program was executed by the states’ unemployment benefits departments.
Starting an entirely new program like PUA during a pandemic when over 1.7 million regular UC claims have been filed was no small undertaking for Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry. Nevertheless, the state’s computer applications for PUA are so poor that the effectiveness of the program has been undermined.
Community Legal Services (CLS) has compiled a report of data collected by our sister program, Philadelphia Legal Assistance (PLA), from PUA applicants. The findings are stark.
- More people were unable to complete the application than were able to file. Many were “kicked out” of the application before they could finish.
- Despite PUA being a program designed for non-traditional workers, key questions of the PUA application were confusing and did not apply to self employed and gig workers. The confusion was made worse by the absence of instructions, either within the applications or in a separate document.
- A large minority of applicants were unable to attach documents proving their 2019 earnings. Without documentation, applicants can only get the minimum benefit.
- Many applicants could not tell if they had successfully filed the application.
CLS and PLA have recommended needed corrective actions to the application by the Department:
- The Department must provide a better guide and better instructions on each page of the application to help confused applicants through the process.
- Barriers that keep applicants from completing the application must be eliminated.
- The application should always be allowed to be finished.
- Written, appealable determinations must be issued where a person is not eligible.
- The “employment history” question of the application must be improved.
- The document upload portion of the application must be improved.
- Much better instructions are needed, especially for applicants who are not tech savvy.
- A help desk should be provided to help applicants handle the documents.
- Allow completion of the application without the attachment of documents.
- An automated confirmation email should be sent after the application is submitted to confirm successful filing.