What it’s like to be furloughed during COVID-19

By Amanda Zacharias
April 28, 2020

In February 2020 the unemployment rate was 3.5 percent nationwide. That rate then rose to 4.4 percent in March. Now that we are in the second week of April the rate is likely at 14.7 percent, the highest level since 1940. With forecasts coming in many are expecting that to rise up to 30 percent during the new coronavirus pandemic. 

The qualifications for unemployment vary state-by-state, with recent changes being made to the requirements to allow for more people to be able to collect during these unprecedented times. There are several benefits available to people in need during times of unemployment including insurance and compensation. States also have varying limits for the duration one can receive these benefits. 

Photo of unemployment eligibility information from the Pennsylvania unemployment website.

Within the state of Pennsylvania, those who wish to file for unemployment must make an initial claim from which a determination will be made on the relief package available. After the initial claim has been accepted, users must make a bi-weekly claim in order to continue receiving relief. 

In light of the recent COVID-19 pandemic, the unemployment filing has been changed. Prior to March, those in need could file for unemployment by calling the Office of Unemployment or filing online. Now, new claims can only be processed online. Phone lines should only be used to service existing claims.

As the unemployment rate continues to soar, the Office of Unemployment website has added a dedicated section for COVID-19 guidance and resources. 

As millions of Americans are struggling to navigate the system, Hayden Campain shares his struggles as he went from being unemployed for three weeks, finding a new job that he was only able to be part of for three weeks before being furloughed. As an audiovisual installer and technician, Campain lost his job with ESG systems that left him without a job for three weeks. During that time he was applying to over 20 jobs per day, spending hours researching potential employers and interviewing in hopes of finding a new job. 

While on this job hunt, he did not file for unemployment. 

After three weeks of searching, he landed a job with Corporate Interiors as an AV Installer. Campain was able to work full-time for about three weeks until the coronavirus pandemic forced the company to halt all business and left him without a job again. As the situation has changed and the job market is not what it was even six weeks ago Campain decided to file for unemployment. 

“Yeah I could have gone to work at a grocery store or something but I’ve worked hard to get the job I want and I’m not about to take a step back. I also can’t think of putting myself on the front lines like that for 12 an hour,” Campain said. 

Unemployment benefits can provide someone with up to 75 percent of their normal salary if all requirements are met. 

While filing the initial claim on March 23, Campain followed all instructions and was approved for unemployment on April 1. However, it has now been over three weeks since the initial claim was made and he has not yet received the financial eligibility letter outlining the benefits he is entitled to. Upon receipt of the approval letter he filed his first bi-weekly claim on April 3, with no response. 

“When I was reading over the first paper they sent me I thought it was great that I was finally approved until I realized they had some information wrong. Since then it’s been hard to make any progress and it’s really frustrating,” Campain said. 

While he had been approved and was taking the necessary next steps, problems were popping up. They had listed his prior employer, ESG Systems, rather than his new employer, Corporate Interiors. In order to update this information, he needed to call the office of unemployment and make sure they can change the information so that the records reflect his change of employment. Getting in contact with someone from the unemployment office has been a challenge. Campain said he spends about two hours a day trying to call in, only to find the lines busy with every attempt. 

Photo of unemployment information from the Pennsylvania unemployment website.

“After two hours of nothing but the busy tone it seems like there isn’t much hope of getting through to anyone,” Campain said. 

This is the tough reality many people are facing as they try to talk with some and get answers as well as provide the necessary information to move on with the filing process. 

Without this update, Campain isn’t sure if that will lead to a long  wait time or if there is a possibility of losing his accepted status. 

“All I can do is hope it works out and also hope that my company will still be there when this is all over,” Campain said. 

For now, Campain’s status is on hold as he continues to try his luck with the filing process and unemployment system. 

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Amanda Zacharias

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