Hundreds in Philly illegally had unemployment cut off without notice, advocates say

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KYW story on illegal denial of UC Benefits with PUP board vice chair Jackie Chapman photo

By Pat Loeb, KYW Newsradio July 20,2021

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — At least 275 people in the Philadelphia area have reported having their unemployment benefits halted, without notification or explanation, in the last six months.

Advocates say that is a violation of federal law, and they are asking federal labor officials to intervene on behalf of those people.

Adrienne Berry says she is one of them. She lost all her income in the pandemic. She was making ends meet with unemployment, until she said the checks stopped suddenly, without explanation.

“After December, everything came to a screeching halt,” Berry said.

“How did that impact me financially? You don’t even want to know. I’m still robbing Peter to pay Paul.”

Philadelphia Unemployment Project Director John Dodds said halting benefits without notice violates a long-standing decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, a decision known as Java. The ruling says that benefits cannot be stopped for more than two weeks without a written determination.

“Those benefits have to be paid. You can’t stop them without notice,” said Dodds.

Dodds said he’ll ask the regional administrator of the U.S. Employment and Training Administration to step in. He believes there may be thousands of people across the state who have lost benefits this way.

Community Legal Services has also sent the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry the list of people Dodds is helping, asking it to immediately restore their benefits, and to identify everyone in the state who may have lost benefits in violation of the Java decision.

The department says it is reviewing the list.

The Philadelphia Unemployment Project is trying to help 1,700 workers with various obstacles to receiving unemployment benefits, but Dodds said the group who were getting benefits and lost them without notice is unusually large.

“We’re a small organization, and we think it’s the tip of the iceberg,” Dodds said.

“Most people are not calling us. They’re calling state representatives. They’re calling senators. They’re trying to call the unemployment office which is basically impossible, so we think it’s an indication there are large numbers of people across the state that have the same problem.”

The Department of Labor and Industry has been under fire for more than a year over a range of issues. Some 800,000 Pennsylvanians lost their jobs during the pandemic.

Many were unable to access benefits because of an antiquated information technology system. Even after the system was replaced, three months ago, problems persisted.

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