House Bill 68 provides relief for those out of work and passed the House and Senate unanimously; the bill provides for emergency changes to the state’s Unemployment Compensation law in response to COVID-19.

What does the bill do?
Eases eligibility requirements and access to unemployment compensation (UC) for workers who have been directly impacted by the coronavirus, including waiving:
- The one-week waiting period for all claimants during the governor’s disaster declaration. 
- Job search and registration requirements for claimants.

The bill also provides automatic relief from benefit charges for any employer whose account would otherwise be charged for weeks of unemployment occurring during the duration of a disaster emergency.

The Specifics

Requires employers to let their employees know UC is available at the time of separation – they need to provide notice.

To ensure Pennsylvania receives its share of coming federal assistance, the secretary of Labor and Industry is authorized to enact temporary regulations necessary to comply with requirements for administrative costs, extended benefits, disaster unemployment or any other unemployment assistance. The temporary regulations will expire 120 days after the federal emergency provisions expire.

Clarifies that federal assistance must be used prior to any state money made available for the UC system.

Enacts COVID-19 emergency provisions, which expire on Jan. 1, 2021.
- Helps unemployed workers by waiving the one-week week waiting requirement and job search/registration requirements for all claimants for the duration of the disaster emergency. 
- Provides relief from charges for private employers, non-profit employers and government employers who elected to pay a solvency fee to the UC Trust Fund. Relief for benefit charges for weeks of unemployment during the duration of the disaster emergency will be COVID-19-related and will be provided automatically.
- Provides more lenient repayment terms for reimbursable employers (non-profits and government) who did not pay the solvency fee:
- 120 days to repay benefits (up from 30 days currently)
L&I can grant an additional 60 days upon a financial hardship request from the employer.
L&I must provide interest-free payment plans upon a financial hardship request from the employer.
No interest on late payments will accrue or be charged until Jan. 1, 2021.

Requires monthly reports to the General Assembly on UC activity.

Questions & Answers

Does this expand eligibility of UC to new categories of claimants?

No. Although the waiting week and job search requirements have been waived to relieve the burden on claimants, anyone who applies will need to meet all the other requirements under the law. 

What if Congress passes a new relief bill and PA needs to make changes to be eligible for additional UC-related relief?

The secretary will have the ability - through the end of 2020 - to adopt temporary regulations to make sure PA qualifies. If a permanent statutory change is necessary to remain eligible, the department will make a recommendation with its monthly report to the General Assembly.

Why is there no provision for reimbursable employers to get relief from charges?

Reimbursable employers have the opportunity each year to elect to be eligible for relief from charges by paying a solvency fee. Those who paid the fee will get relief from charges under this bill. There was no agreement with L&I about relief for those who had an opportunity and chose not to pay into UC. 

Employers who chose not to pay into UC will get lenient repayment plans. If these charges are waived, the cost of benefits to these employees will be borne by employers who pay UC taxes or the solvency fee.

Does this bill provide any additional state money for the operations of the UC system?

No, but this could be considered later. Legislation passed recently by Congress provides PA up to $37.8 million in administrative funding and a provision for federally funded extended benefits. The bill reserves a spot for state funding and clarifies that federal funding must be used first, if state funding becomes necessary in the future. 

What about self-employed people who are not eligible for UC benefits?

There are numerous financial, logistical and moral challenges related to providing state eligibility for UC benefits to people whose earnings were not subject to UC taxes and did not provide wage records to L&I. However, the bill includes provisions to allow temporary regulations to be adopted, in the event PA needs to make changes to qualify for federal programs to provide benefits to self-employed people and others who are not eligible for regular UC benefits.

The most appropriate vehicle for relief will be federal resources. Although U.S. Department of Labor has indicated the current Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) program cannot be used for this emergency, L&I has indicated that changes to the program could be made or a similar federal program may be implemented to provide similar benefits to people who lost employment or self-employment as the result of the COVID-19 emergency. We will be tracking the conversation about DUA and reviewing any future legislation after it is passed by Congress.