Pa. coronavirus update: L&I secretary asks Senate to extend unemployment relief

Manager Yllka Murati waits for a delivery driver to pick up takeout orders at the Penrose Diner

Manager Yllka Murati waits for a delivery driver to pick up takeout orders at the Penrose Diner, Tuesday, Nov. 17, 2020, in South Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

Ask us about COVID-19: What questions do you have about the current surge?

More than half a million Pennsylvania residents are relying on additional federal unemployment benefits created as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic. But those benefits are slated to expire this month unless Congress acts. Now, the commonwealth’s Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak is asking the U.S. Senate to extend the benefits.

“To allow tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians and millions of Americans to lose their income during a global pandemic in the middle of winter and the holiday season is beyond cruel,” said Oleksiak in a statement.

Traditional unemployment compensation typically runs out after 26 weeks. But the federal Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) extended benefits for a total of 39 weeks.

Those who couldn’t receive regular unemployment compensation could tap into the federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, which offered up to 39 weeks of unemployment benefits.

These programs, however, end on Dec. 26.

Oleksiak argues Congress needs to extend the PUA and PEUC programs to prevent secondary effects on businesses.

“The end of PUA and PEUC will further paralyze the economy, causing additional job losses and business closures,” he wrote.

Philly awarded 500k to house those experiencing homelessness

Philadelphia is getting $500,000 in CARES Act funding to help house residents experiencing homelessness during the pandemic.

The Emergency Solutions Grant – Cares Act Code Blue funds will go to the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) for various contracted agencies, Project Home, and Resources for Human Development.

The funds will create additional low-barrier housing, which would help people more vulnerable to complications from COVID-19, such as those who have underlying health conditions or are older.

Liz Hersh, director of the Office of Homeless Services, said the funds will help shelter people while the city works on getting individuals long-term housing.

“With the rate of COVID cases surging, temperatures dropping, and federal aid ending, we could find ourselves facing a perfect storm in which we can’t help those in need,” she said in a statement. “These funds provide a lifeline, just in time.”

The funds can be used for costs including emergency shelter operations, renovating shelters, operations costs associated with temporary shelters, and hazard pay for street outreach workers.

Montco hospitals continue to be strained

All but two Montgomery County hospitals are at capacity, according to Valerie Arkoosh, the Chair of the Montgomery County Board of Commissioners.

In a COVID-19 briefing, Arkoosh said hospital staffing levels are also being pushed to critical limits as more people test positive for the coronavirus. She stressed the need for residents to continue to mask up and socially distance because if the virus keeps spreading to hospital staff, there is no backup.

“Hospitals everywhere are having this problem,” she said. “In the spring there were people who traveled all over the country to the covid hotspots to assist, but there’s no spare hospital personnel to come this time.”

Arkoosh says the mitigation efforts are especially important as the county gets a clearer picture of the impacts of Thanksgiving gatherings.

“People who may have been infected on thanksgiving, it’s going to take 5 to 7 days for them to realize that they were exposed or start to get sick and get tested,” she explained. “We’ll have a much better answer to that at the beginning of next week.”

The next week will determine if the county is able to maintain the slight dip in its 14-day average positivity rate.

Between mid-November and Friday, the rate dropped from 8.1% to 7.9. Arkoosh said a 5% positivity rate means the virus is being suppressed.

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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