UPDATE: Pennsylvania to resolve cases of unemployment benefits cut off without notice

Community Legal Services attorney Sharon Dietrich, who represents the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, outside U.S. Labor Department offices in Philadelphia Tuesday, protesting the state's halting of unemployment benefits to at least 275 people without notice.
Community Legal Services attorney Sharon Dietrich, who represents the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, outside U.S. Labor Department offices in Philadelphia Tuesday, protesting the state's halting of unemployment benefits to at least 275 people without notice. Photo credit Photo: John Dodds

Update: 3:29 p.m.

PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Advocates for the unemployed are declaring victory, after the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry agreed to act immediately to resolve 275 cases over the last six months in which benefits were halted to laid-off workers without explanation or notice.

As KYW Newsradio reported Tuesday, John Dodds of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project said the cases violated a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that benefits cannot be halted without a written explanation.

The Department did not admit any wrongdoing, but said it would resolve all of the cases within three weeks.

Dodds says he is still concerned that there may be thousands of workers statewide whose benefits were halted without explanation, but he called the Department’s action Tuesday “an important first step.”

Original story

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.

Featured Image Photo Credit: John Dodds