$3 million federal grant to tackle disparities in Pa. unemployment compensation

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry in Harrisburg is shown in this file photo.
(Jelani Splawn, Spotlight PA)

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry in Harrisburg is shown in this file photo. (Jelani Splawn, Spotlight PA)

The Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry has secured a $3 million federal grant to address disparities in the state’s Unemployment Compensation system with the help of community organizations.

L&I plans to use the grant to improve access for specific groups of underserved Pennsylvanians, including workers with limited English proficiency in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, workers in low-income communities with limited access to technology, as well as individuals with intellectual disabilities.

Pennsylvania is one of just seven states to receive a Navigator grant this round from the U.S. Department of Labor funded by the American Rescue Plan Act. The grant will run for three years. Governor Tom Wolf announced the grant funding on Thursday.

“My administration remains committed to eliminating barriers faced by historically marginalized communities and ensuring all eligible workers, regardless of background, receive the support they need to overcome economic hardship. This funding and partnership with community-based organizations will bring us closer to true equity in access to Pennsylvania’s UC system,” Wolf said in a statement.

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In the coming weeks, L&I will open an application period for community-based organizations interested in partnering up.

“We’ll review the applicants and then we’ll decide which organizations have good plans in place. And then we’ll work with them to make sure that we’re on the same page, that the information will provide some training on unemployment, those types of things, and then they can help us deliver services to individuals,” Deputy Secretary for UC Susan Dickinson said.

Dickinson said that grant is similar to recent DOL grants centered around equitable access to unemployment compensation. She said that there is a need nationwide for such assistance.

In March, the DOL awarded L&I with a $6.8 million grant for projects aimed at promoting equitable access to the UC program. The funds are being used to offer in-person services for UC claimants across the state. Services began in May.

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“We are having individuals who work for us currently in the CareerLink on Mondays and Tuesdays, and they’ve been helping people in-person. People can make appointments with them for 30 minutes and they can come get help with their unemployment claims,” Dickinson said.

This Navigator grant is similar to that — except instead of L&I staff walking people through the process, it is going to be these community organizations doing the leg work.

Dickinson added that the unemployment program is “complicated” because the law is “very complex.”

“Individuals will definitely benefit from having all this additional help out there, walking them through the process and explaining things to them,” Dickinson said.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic, L&I has distributed approximately $48.5 billion in UC benefits to Pennsylvanians.

Broke in PhillyWHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.

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