Philadelphia’s legal aid office trying to help hundreds cut through unemployment red tape

By KYW Newsradio 1060

UPDATED 1:15 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio)  More than 1.5 million people have filed for unemployment in Pennsylvania since the start of the state shutdown over seven weeks ago. But many are still having issues with their claims.

Clogged phone lines to the unemployment office have only amplified frustrations for people left jobless, so attorneys at the Philadelphia Legal Assistance office are offering a hand to those in desperate need.

“The majority of calls is people asking what’s going on with their case, because they cannot get a status update from unemployment,” said Julia Simon-Mishel, supervising attorney for the unemployment compensation unit.

She says they are assisting with all sorts of issues.

“The questions are not written in a user-friendly manner. They are more written in legalese. For a lot of people to understand them, it takes a lot of parsing and close reading,” she said. 

Another major problem is access — both with computers and language barriers.

"A lot of individuals in Philadelphia and in the state do not have access to a computer in their home," she said. 

The office has set up a free hotline for people to file initial claims if they cannot file online at 215-999-6910. The hotline is only providing support with regular unemployment applications at the moment, but the office is hoping to expand to Pandemic Unemployment Assistance soon.

The office also has resources for those who may not be fluent in English. 

Self-employed workers and independent contractors can now file for backdated benefits. 

Officials announced Thursday the launch of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program on the Department of Labor website. PUA was signed into law in late March, because gig workers cannot usually collect benefits.The new web system is meant to bypasses a lot of red tape, and no PIN is necessary. 

___

Do you have questions about unemployment or the economic stimulus package? Each day, KYW Newsradio's Kristen Johanson will answer them. Like us on Facebook and send a message; tweet at us at @KYWNewsradio; or email us a question.