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Labor Report

PA Labor Department Adds New Layer of PUA Fraud Protection, Notifies Claimants of Certification Requirement

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry continues to add additional layers of security to protect the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) system against fraud and to prevent criminals from using identity theft to file fraudulent claims in the names of unsuspecting Pennsylvanians.

L&I Secretary Jerry Oleksiak announced that the Department has contracted with – a federally certified identity verification provider – to defeat a nationwide scam targeting the PUA program. No personal identity information held by the Department has been compromised, but scammers have been using information obtained from other sources to file fraudulent claims.

“The new anti-fraud steps we are taking with allow us to more efficiently process PUA claims while reducing fraud,” Secretary Oleksiak said.

Legitimate claimants should check their PUA dashboards for secure notifications from and promptly follow the instructions they receive to verify their identities. Only those PUA claimants who have been contacted by the Department through their dashboards may complete the verification steps. If those claimants do not complete verification, their benefits payments may be frozen.

The Department sought the assistance of after detecting a surge of fraudulent PUA claims in September. As a result, benefits payments to new PUA claimants were paused to prevent payouts to fraudsters. will initially verify about 5,000 claimants daily. Capacity will increase in the coming days.

In addition, PUA claimants should expect to see a new notice on their dashboards regarding their weekly claim certification. Each week, every PUA claimant will be asked to declare the COVID-related reason why they are unemployed. They will be asked to choose from among a pre-determined list of reasons.

All PUA claimants have been asked this question each week since mid-June. However, those who have received benefits for weeks prior to mid-June must now answer the question for each benefits week prior to mid-June. Individuals will not be able to claim benefits for future weeks until they have answered the question for each prior benefits week.

Rising COVID-Positive Stats Indicate Onset of ‘Second Wave,’ But Death Rates Remain in Check

A second wave of COVID-19 infections appears to be upon Pennsylvania and the United States following recent spikes in Europe, and as the nation prepares for the onset of the annual flu season.

The Post-Gazette reported via the Associated Press that Pennsylvania recorded 1,376 new positive cases on October 8, the highest statewide total since April 29, when 1,461 new cases were recorded. Nineteen of 20 Western PA counties recorded additional cases, led by Allegheny County’s 127 for the day, raising its total to 13,024 since the start of the pandemic.

In the Eastern part of the Commonwealth, Philadelphia reported 225 new cases for the day. The Inquirer reported that Pennsylvania’s “average number of new daily cases” increased 16% in the previous week, while New Jersey’s increased 21%. Both states recorded a positive test rate of 3.7%.

Governor Tom Wolf said he is “very concerned” about the latest data from the state’s Department of Health, while New Jersey’s health commissioner said, “This wave has the potential to become a surge,” according to the Inquirer.

On October 9, CNN reported that only two U.S. states have shown a downward trend in new cases compared to the previous week – Alabama and Hawaii – while 28 states are showing upward trends of at least 10% and 20 states are holding steady. Rates are increasing in New York, New Jersey, and Ohio, while they are decreasing in Delaware, Maryland, and West Virginia.

PennLive reported that Governor Wolf has attributed much of Pennsylvania’s recent increases to the onset of colder weather and flu season, as well as the start of the fall semester at many colleges. Centre County, the home of Penn State University, leads the state in per capita infections, according to the Post-Gazette.

Also, COVID-19 testing has increased dramatically in the Commonwealth. There were 32,653 test results reported to the Department of Health on Oct. 7, compared to 23,317 on Aug. 7, and 12,578 on Sept. 7, according to PennLive.

Governor Wolf further said that Pennsylvania is in a better position to deal with a second wave than it was at the outset of the pandemic. The state has more personal protective equipment in reserve than it has used throughout the pandemic so far, and that hospitals are better prepared to handle COVID-related admission. Also, the demand for ventilators has not increased with the surge in cases, and the death rate remains low, the governor said.

Governor, Health Secretary Modify Gathering Restrictions, Increasing Capacities for Indoor, Outdoor Events

As Pennsylvanians continue to do their part by adopting healthy behaviors to combat the spread of COVID-19, Governor Tom Wolf and Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine have amended COVID-19 orders to allow for larger indoor and outdoor gathering limits while keeping in place proven mitigation tools such as wearing masks and social distancing.

As of October 9, the amended orders will allow for venue occupancy limits to play a bigger role in determining the number of people permitted both inside and outside of events or gatherings. An event or gathering is defined as a temporary grouping of individuals for defined purposes that takes place over a limited timeframe, such as hours or days, including fairs, festivals, concerts, or shows and groupings that occur within larger, more permanent businesses, such as shows or performances within amusement parks, individual showings of movies, business meetings or conferences, or each party or reception within a multi-room venue.

Conversely, groups of people who share a space within a building in the ordinary course of operations, such as in an office building, classroom, production floor or similar regularly occurring operation of a business or organization, are not considered events or gatherings.

All businesses are required to conduct their operations remotely through individual teleworking of their employees in the jurisdiction or jurisdictions in which they do business unless that is not possible. In those instances, employees may conduct in-person business operations, provided that the businesses fully comply with the business safety order, the worker safety order, and the masking order.

The orders amend two sections of the July 15 mitigation orders and include a “maximum occupancy calculator” for both indoor and outdoor events. Based on a venue’s established occupancy limit as defined by the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Life Safety Code, venues apply the appropriate percent of occupancy to determine how many attendees are permitted to attend an event or gathering.

Maximum Occupancy Calculator for indoor events: 

Maximum Occupancy 

Allowable Indoor Rate  

0-2,000 people 

20% of Maximum Occupancy 

2,001 - 10,000 people 

15% of Maximum Occupancy 

Over 10,000 people 

10% of Maximum Occupancy up to 3,750 people 

Maximum Occupancy Calculator for outdoor events: 

Maximum Occupancy 

Allowable Outdoor Rate  

0-2,000 people 

25% of Maximum Occupancy 

2,001 - 10,000 people  

20% of Maximum Occupancy 

Over 10,000 people 

15% of Maximum Occupancy up to 7,500 people 

Venues must require attendees to comply with 6-foot social distancing requirements, to wear masks or face coverings, and to implement best practices such as timed entry, multiple entry and exit points, multiple restrooms and hygiene stations. Venues and event planners can review the CDC Events and Gatherings Readiness and Planning ToolOpens In A New Window for additional information regarding best practices.

When not hosting events, occupancy restrictions outlined in the green phase of reopening continue to apply to businesses in the commonwealth.

Any gathering restrictions established by local authorities, such as the ones established in Philadelphia and State College, remain in effect.

State-System Universities May Lay Off 350 Professors Amid Declining Enrollment

Pennsylvania’s State System of Higher Education is planning to accelerate the layoffs of hundreds of faculty members from its state-owned universities, primarily from four institutions in the Western half of the Commonwealth.

About 350 professors could be let go following the Spring 2021 semester, according to the Post-Gazette. The four most-impacted universities are Indiana University of Pennsylvania (the largest among SSHE institutions in the west and second-largest overall), California, Clarion, and Edinboro. They are expected to suffer 220 combined layoffs.

“The cuts would bring faculty-student ratios more in line with enrollment declines over the last decade – part of a system redesign in the works since January 2017,” the newspaper reported. “The timeline to achieve that initially was five years.”

Last spring, the timeline was condensed to two years as the COVID-19 pandemic caused new challenges for a system already facing financial difficulties.

IUP Professor Jamie Martin, who is president of the Association of Pennsylvania State College and University Faculties, told the newspaper that her university would lose about 25% of its teaching force.

“Layoff notices to tenured faculty on the seven campuses affected by reductions must be sent out by Oct. 30 under a collective bargaining agreement with APSCUF,” the Post-Gazette reported. “Notices for other faculty including adjuncts and probationary employees can be sent later in the academic year.”

When combined with recent early retirements, the layoffs would result in a 10% reduction in the teaching staff systemwide. Enrollment in the 14 SSHE universities has also been declining. At nearly 96,000, it is down about 20% from 2010, when enrollment was nearly 120,000 following a period of rapid growth.

Cheyney, Lock Haven, and Mansfield also face faculty reductions, according to the APSCUF official. The SSHE declined to confirm details of the planned layoffs.