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Labor Report

Labor Department Issues Warning Signs, Reporting Guidance for Unemployment Benefits Fraud

Identity thieves and scam artists continue to target pandemic-related unemployment benefits programs across the nation. In response, the Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry has issued information about the warning signs of these often-sophisticated frauds and how to report suspected cases.

Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) has been the primary target of scams. PUA is the federal program administered by the state to provide for self-employed, independent contractors, and others who do not qualify for traditional Unemployment Compensation (UC).

“Pennsylvania takes unemployment benefits fraud very seriously and first warned the public about this national scam in May,” L&I Secretary Jerry Oleksiak said. “These fraudsters are using personal information previously stolen from sources outside of Commonwealth agencies to file for PUA benefits. Many Pennsylvanians are not even aware their identities were stolen in the past until they receive correspondence or a debit card from our UC office. I urge everyone to remain vigilant, recognize the scam warning signs, and know what to do if you become a victim.”

In collaboration with other state and federal agencies, the Department has identified more than 4,000 fraudulent PUA claims in Pennsylvania and prevented the theft of more than $44 million.

Individuals should be aware of the following warning signs that an attempted theft may be in progress:
● You have not applied for unemployment benefits but you received a check or direct deposit from the Pennsylvania Treasury, or you have received a ReliaCard debit card from US Bank;
● You receive correspondence from L&I or Treasury about receiving unemployment assistance, but you did not apply for assistance;
● Someone comes to your home and states that their unemployment check or debit card was mailed to your home by mistake;
● Someone asks to use your bank account to deposit their unemployment benefits;
● Someone contacts you and tells you that you are entitled to unemployment assistance and requests your personal identifying information;
● Someone offers to help you apply for unemployment benefits in exchange for a fee;
● Someone claims to be from L&I or another government agency or office and asks for a fee or your personal information to complete your application for PUA or other benefits;
● If you are an employer and receive a notice that a claim has been filed for one or more of your employees who were not laid off or otherwise unemployed by you.

To report suspected fraud, call the PA Fraud Hotline at 1-800-692-7469 or file an online report at one of the following links:
● The online Unemployment Claims Fraud Form is for reporting individuals who are collecting benefits illegally, including people who are working but not reporting those earnings to the state, and people who are collecting unemployment benefits although they cannot work due to illness, disability, or incarceration. To collect unemployment benefits, an individual must be available for work.
● The online Identity Theft Form is for reporting someone who is using your personal information, such as name, Social Security Number, or date of birth without your consent to file for unemployment benefits.

Victims should also file a police report in the municipality where they live. Obtain a copy of the police report to provide to the state’s Office of Unemployment Compensation.

Victims may also report cases of fraud to the Federal Trade Commission and initiate a plan to recover their losses.

If you receive a benefits payment but did not apply for it, the payment should be returned to the Department of Treasury via the methods described on the UC Fraud webpage.

Direct Care Workers Will Receive One-Time CARES Act Payments in Coming Weeks

More than 17,769 direct care workers in Pennsylvania will be paid a combined $28 million over the next two weeks for their work during the COVID-19 pandemic in accordance with Act 24 of 2020, legislation adopted by the General Assembly in May to administer Pennsylvania’s share of federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding.

Direct care workers who have been employed through participant-directed employer models will receive an average of $1,730 each, according to the Department of Human Services. These one-time payments will be issued through the Office of Long-Term Living’s payment broker, PPL.

DHA Secretary Teresa Miller said, “I want to thank all direct care workers who have selflessly continued to aid and support their clients during this difficult time, and participants in the self-directed service models who kept their direct care workers employed despite the risks of outside contact.”

The amount of each individual payment will be determined based on the number of 15-minute units of direct care provided by the worker in relation to the total number of 15-minute units of care provided by all direct care workers.

In addition to the $28 million in payments for direct care workers, Act 24 also allocated $112 million in CARES funding for one-time payments to home healthcare and home care providers.

Other essential workers who remain on the job may soon be receiving a temporary pay increase through a separate state program funding by the CARES Act. From July 16 through July 31, employers were able to apply for hazard pay grants through the Department of Community and Economic Development. Businesses were able to apply for up to $1,200 per eligible full-time equivalent employee earning less than $20 an hour.

The funding may be used to reimburse companies for hazard pay they will award to employees from August 16 through October 24. Grants are capped at $3 million for any individual business, healthcare nonprofit, public transportation agency, or certified economic development organization. Eligibility extends to only those employers in certain specific industries.

However, some employers in eligible industries declined to participate in the program, much to the dismay of employees who could qualify for hazard pay.

One Philadelphia-area healthcare provider has 3,200 employees at numerous jobsites who earn less than $20 an hour, but it declined to apply for hazard pay grants and told its on-site subcontractors not to apply, The Inquirer reported.

Wendell Young, president of UFCW Local 1776, told the newspaper that some employers might have resisted applying for the hazard pay grants so they could avoid having to provide unreimbursed hazard pay to employees who make more than $20 an hour.

U.S. Senate Holds Up Next Pandemic Relief Legislation, Stalemate Could Extend Through September

With Congressional negotiations stalled on a new federal pandemic relief package and with the White House issuing a controversial series of executive orders that it claims would extend some benefits, such as Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation at a reduced level, RollCall published a deep dive report on divisions within the Republican party that have thus far prevented a Senate consensus or compromise.

In short, legislative relief may now have to wait until September 30, when Congress faces a deadline to adopt a continuing resolution to keep federal agencies operating at least through the November general elections, RollCall reported. In this scenario, Senate leadership could combine government funding and pandemic relief into one bill and one floor vote.

“I think it would be better for Republicans, instead of taking two expensive votes, to take one expensive vote and make it a little more convoluted with the (continuing resolution),” a GOP lobbyist reportedly told the news agency.

Messaging from key GOP senators has varied. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who chairs the Senate Labor-HHS-Education Appropriations Subcommittee, said that a deal could be reached before September 30 “if Democrats agreed to drop about one-third of the nearly $3.4 trillion House-passed relief bill,” RollCall wrote.

Yet, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that 20 members of his caucus would not vote for the $1 trillion relief proposal that the Senator from Kentucky announced in July. That plan includes a renewal of the FPUC program at $200 per week (one-third the rate of the original program that expired on July 25), as well as a second round of $1,200 stimulus payments to individual Americans and more funding for the Paycheck Protection Program.

McConnell’s proposal also includes liability protection for employers against lawsuits by employees and patrons who contract COVID-19 in the workplace.

RollCall noted that just five months ago, the Senate unanimously adopted a $2 trillion relief package by a vote of 96-0. Through June 30, $1.1 trillion of that funding has yet to be allocated, the news agency reported, citing federal data.

Weekly Initial Unemployment Claims Drop Below a Million in U.S. for First Time Since March

In the week ending August 8, the advance figure for seasonally adjusted initial unemployment insurance claims in the United States, as reported by the U.S. Department of Labor, was 963,000, a decrease of 228,000 from the previous week’s revised level, which was adjusted up by 5,000 to 1,191,000.

This latest reporting period marked the first time since mid-March that the weekly total was below 1 million initial claims. Yet, the latest weekly total was still in historically high territory. According to The Washington Post, the single-week record before the pandemic was 695,000 recorded in 1982 during another economic recession.

In addition, there were 488,622 new claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), the federally funded program that provides benefits to self-employed and independent contractors.

The total number of people claiming benefits in all unemployment-related programs was 28,257,995 for the week ending July 25, which is the latest weekly total available for that category. This figure was a decrease of more than 3 million from the previous week. Yet, for the corresponding week in 2019, there were 1,690,746 people claiming benefits in all programs.

The 4-week moving average of weekly new unemployment claims was 1,252,750 for the week ending August 8, a decrease of 86,250 from the previous week’s revised moving average.