The Bureau of Employment Programs (BEP) previously provided guidance in CONTRACTOR LETTER #2020-03-16. All 67 counties in Pennsylvania have been under a Stay at Home Order (red phase of the Phased Reopening Plan) since March 31, 2020. On May 8, 2020, the Governor transitioned some counties into the yellow phase of the Reopening plan. Other counties remain in the red phase. For additional information regarding the phased reopening plan visit: https://www.pa.gov/guides/responding-to-covid-19/#PhasedReopening.
During the Red Phase, participants have been completing remote activities to the extent possible with the guidance of E&T providers. Current participants who are unable to participate remotely have been able to maintain their benefits during this time. Additionally, no new enrollments have taken place in E&T programs. With the reopening of areas under the yellow phase and subsequent green phase, additional guidance and expectations must be communicated to ensure that E&T providers and participants understand the new expectations.
Excused Absences and Good Cause Policy
Under E&T procedures established before COVID-19, individuals engaged in unpaid work activities may get participation credit for excused absences for up to 80 hours in a 12-month period, but no more than 16 hours per month. This does not include the 10 countable holidays (New Year’s Day, Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr., Washington’s Birthday/Presidents’ Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving Day, and Christmas Day).
An individual mandatory to participate in RESET may be unable to participate in some of the required hours even if the individual is not exempt. As a reminder, good cause may be granted during the COVID-19 crisis for numerous reasons, but not limited to:
- Provider challenges in offering remote activities (GC 87)
- Lack of access to technology needed for remote participation (GC 87)
- Inability to participate due to lack of childcare (caring for a child whose school or daycare is closed due to the pandemic) (GC 56 or 57 as appropriate)
- Needing to care for themselves or family members in the event of sickness or exposure to COVID-19 (GC 53)
Upon receipt from the CAO, please review the Agreement of Mutual Responsibility (AMR) to check participation hours and to see if good cause has been granted for any reason.
During the COVID-19 crisis, BEP wants to ensure the most up-to-date guidance is provided regarding excused absences, remote engagement, the CAO’s usage of good cause, and the treatment of new enrollments. This guidance is fluid and dependent upon the orders of the Governor and his oversight of Pennsylvania’s response to COVID-19.
Red Phase Locations
As areas remain in or return to the “red phase” they will be subject to all provisions in this section.
- New Referrals and Enrollments — Counties in the red phase remain under a stay-at-home order. Providers within the red phase will receive no new referrals until they move into the yellow phase as determined by the Governor.
Exceptions will be granted for reverse referrals. They may be processed for KEYS, SNAP 50/50, and Family Works applications for ELECT. These contracted programs may continue to submit reverse referrals to the CAO as long as they can perform intake procedures remotely and the individual already has the ability to participate remotely.
- Current Enrollments — Individuals currently enrolled with E&T providers within counties subject to red phase requirements will remain enrolled with that E&T provider and continue to receive remote case management, job development, and participate in remote activities to the fullest extent possible. Participants should be informed that childcare may still be available if they are currently an essential worker or obtain work in an essential role.
Participants will not be sanctioned for reduced participation or inability to participate related to COVID-19. Good cause will remain in effect as needed.
Yellow Phase of Reopening
As areas transition into the yellow phase of reopening, they will be subject to all provisions in this section. In accordance with the Governor’s directives, precautions are still necessary to ensure the spread of the disease remains at a minimum. Consequently, schools may still be closed; child care and public transportation may still be limited; physical locations of some providers may remain closed, even if permitted to open; and some participants may continue to have limited or no access to technology needed to participate remotely.
- New Referrals and Enrollments — In light of the fact that on-going COVID-19 precautions will remain in place, the CAOs will be evaluating or re-evaluating good cause for each individual before referring the individual to an E&T program or requiring the individual to participate or fully participate in E&T activities if already enrolled in a program.
E&T providers in areas that enter the yellow phase must accept new electronic referrals, provide remote enrollments for E&T programming, and engage these new participants in remote activities to the extent they are able to engage in such activities. CAOs in these areas will also be transitioning individuals who were receiving good cause into remote programming as their good cause time expires or at benefit renewal whichever comes first. Programs will be responsible to conduct new enrollments and services remotely. E&T providers will contact new enrollments upon receipt of the CAO’s referral.
For providers who intend to have any in-person intake/orientation during the Yellow Phase, they must follow the protocols established by their facility or PA CareerLink®. Participants may be scheduled for one-on-one meetings of no more than two hours in length. Because of childcare constraints, participants are permitted to bring their children. They must, however, practice appropriate social distancing and wear masks, when appropriate. After this initial meeting, participants will be required to complete remote activities. They may not continue to return to the facility to obtain their participation hours.
Reverse referrals will continue to be processed for KEYS, SNAP 50/50, and Family Works applications for ELECT. These contracted programs may continue to submit reverse referrals to the CAO if they can perform intake procedures remotely and the individual already has the ability to participate remotely.
- Current Enrollments — Individuals currently enrolled and participating will continue to receive remote case management, job development, and participate in remote activities to the fullest extent possible. Those who have not been able to participate or fully participate will be re-evaluated for good cause.
After an area has moved into the yellow phase, E&T providers will perform outreach to individuals who have not engaged in remote participation at all in the prior 14 days Individuals who do not respond to outreach should be logged and discussed with CAO representatives at DST meetings. The E&T provider will terminate the individual from the program only when consensus is reached by the E&T provider and CAO representatives.
In the yellow phase, no new sanction or penalty will be implemented.
Green Phase of Reopening
Per the Governor’s Reopen plan, this phase represents a “new normal” where aggressive mitigation measures are lifted, but precautions are still necessary to ensure the spread of the disease remains at a minimum. As areas move into the Green Phase of reopening, they will be subject to all provisions in this section. It is important to recognize that child care and public transportation may still be limited; physical locations of some providers may remain closed, even if they are permitted to re-open under the Governor’s order; and some participants may continue to have limited or no access to technology needed to participate remotely.
Participants and E&T programs must continue to follow the CDC and PA Department of Health Guidelines.
Due to on-going COVID-19 precautions, the CAO will evaluate or re-evaluate good cause prior to referring an individual to an E&T program or requiring the individual to participate or fully participate in E&T activities if already enrolled in a program.
- New Referrals and Enrollments — CAOs in areas that enter the green phase will update AMRs and refer new mandatory individuals to the E&T programs as they reopen to the public based on the Governor’s directives and childcare availability. This group will include individuals who were not referred during the red or yellow phase, those at the expiration of their good cause date, and those at the date of their next renewal.
Good cause and potential exemptions will be review prior to referral. If the individual is mandatory, the CAO will refer these individuals to E&T programs. E&T providers are asked to conduct electronic outreach prior to an individual’s enrollment date to ensure their needs are addressed for the
- Current Enrollments — After an area has moved into the Green Phase, E&T providers will perform outreach to individuals who have not been successfully engaged (no hours/non-responsive) in remote participation in the prior 14 days and for whom makeup plans were also not successful. Outreach efforts should include the use of all available contact information including telephone, text messages, or email. Individuals who do not respond to outreach should be logged, discussed at DST, and terminated by the E&T provider with the appropriate code in CWDS only when consensus is reached by the E&T provider and CAO representatives.
In the green phase, no new sanctions will be implemented until new guidance is provided.
Continued Guidance for All Phases
- Individual Absences — If an individual is unable to attend the program due to a COVID-19 related event (i.e. exposure, family illness, school/childcare closures, etc.) providers will provide them with remote activities in an attempt to continue engagement with the program. From April 1, 2020 onward, E&T programs will not be using any excused absence time until new guidance is provided. Makeup plans are encouraged to assist the participant in achieving their required hours. Should they not be able to do so, hours will not be entered for these circumstances. Case action should be taken based on the phase to which the area has transitioned.
For parties in the yellow or green phase who are unable to continue in remote programming for more than 14 days, AND who cannot be successfully engaged by the E&T program, they will be terminated from their current employment and training program.
- Remote Activities, Supervision, and Verification — When possible, remote activities are encouraged throughout all phases of reopening. As a reminder, daily supervision must be provided by the contracted program. Daily supervision does not mean daily in-person contact. The supervision may be by telephone or electronic contact (email/text) and ensures that the individual participates and progresses in his/her assigned activities. The contact should occur on the days the individual is scheduled to participate. Contracted program staff are responsible to develop a remote participation plan for everyone who will be utilizing this option.
Remote EARN and Work Ready participants must use form PA 1895 (Employment and Training Weekly Activity Verification Form) to log their activities, to include the date of the activities, type of activity, their E&T case manager’s contact information, and the begin and end times for each activity recorded. When the log is completed, the participant must transmit it (via mail, fax, or electronically – pictures are acceptable via phone) to the E&T case manager. Contractors may complete the PA 1895 with the client and request their signature at a later date. Due to the current impact of COVID-19, flexibility will be provided in these circumstances so the PA 1895 can be logged on a separate document and the form completed at a later time.
In addition to online services you may already use, please see Attachment A: Remote Activity.
Please also review Attachment B: Employment, Job Search and Job Readiness Activity Codes and Attachment C: Vocational Education Activity Codes.
If you have any questions about the usage of any activity or a remote opportunity you would like to seek advice on regarding the coding, please contact RA-PWBEP.TANF@pa.gov .
NOTE: If core activities are not available or prudent to use due to federal time limits, an individual may be switched to a non-core activity with no penalty to the participant or the program until further guidance is provided. Additionally, CAOs will not be sanctioning, through any reopening phase, until further guidance is provided.
- Post-Secondary Education Six-Month Extensions — Students participating in post-secondary education who were not able to complete a full semester due to COVID-19 may be reviewed for extension eligibility based on the last full semester that was completed. If no last full semester exists, good cause may be applied to allow the individual to continue to participate going forward until a full semester is available to appropriately determine an extension.
- Childcare and Special Allowances — For areas in the red phase, childcare is available for essential workers only. For areas in the yellow phase, childcare centers are able to open but may still be limited. Childcare centers are required to follow all related CDC and DOH guidelines. Yellow phase E&T providers should work closely with the local CAO and ELRC to decide when it is appropriate/allowable to request childcare for individuals who are experiencing this barrier throughout all phases of reopening. ELRC contact information for your location is available at https://www.dhs.pa.gov/Services/Assistance/Pages/ELRCs.aspx. Additional Frequently Asked Questions about childcare can be found on the DHS website.
Special Allowances (SPALs) will continue to be reviewed by the CAO to support participation in work and work-related activities.
- Health and Safety Reminders — Providers must contact the PA Department of Health at 1-877-PA-HEALTH (1-877-724-3258) if they become aware of parties that have tested presumptively positive. For additional information regarding Contact Tracing please visit: https://www.health.pa.gov/topics/disease/coronavirus/Pages/Contact-Tracing.aspx
- Please share and review with appropriate staff.
- Continue to monitor the PA Department of Health website and your email for additional updates as circumstances change.
- This Contractor Letter will become obsolete when incorporated into the program’s Operations Manual or when future correspondence renders it so.
- Send questions for BEP to RA-PWBEP.TANF@pa.gov.