What you need to know about the new PA unemployment system

PA unemployment

Pennsylvania will launch its new unemployment compensation portal on June 8th, replacing a 40-year-old system that was overburdened during last year’s record-high unemployment.

Here’s why the timing is contentious, as well as what users may anticipate in the following weeks.

Controversy and history

Pennsylvania has been attempting to replace its computer system for more than a decade, beginning about the same time as several states opted to overhaul unemployment services. The Commonwealth first chose IBM, which was awarded $170 million to rebuild its system.

Pennsylvania ultimately sued the corporation, alleging that it had gone $60 million over budget and failed to provide a functional system.

Geographic Solutions Inc. was given a contract by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in 2017 to try again.

Previously, the corporation was supposed to provide a new unemployment system for the state in 2020. When the coronavirus epidemic slowed down the economy and overwhelmed the unemployment system, authorities opted to postpone the revamp in order to concentrate on satisfying that demand.

According to state statistics, there are around 250,000 persons who have fresh or ongoing unemployment compensation claims on file. At the height of the pandemic slump, the figure surpassed 1.2 million. When compared to before the epidemic, the current figure includes around 100,000 more individuals.
Throughout this influx of new users, the system has been “kept together with rubber bands and duct tape,” according to Acting Secretary of Labor and Industry Jennifer Berrier at a recent news conference. She believes the state is now in a strong position to make a change that will allow the department to be more responsive to claimants.

“It’s basically a more contemporary system,” Berrier said. “It enables you to update information in real-time, which was previously a paper procedure.” Users, for example, will no longer be obliged to wait for a PIN in the mail, but will instead be able to log in using a Keystone ID, a commonwealth identifier utilized across numerous benefit programs.

Nonetheless, organizations representing those receiving unemployment benefits have criticized the timing of the change.

“We’re quite concerned,” said John Dodds, head of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, a non-profit organization founded in 1975 to advocate for the jobless. He is concerned that the changeover would divert resources away from other pressing issues with benefits administration, such as the 289,000 individuals whose claims have yet to be resolved. The state has said that the great majority of the accusations are false.

Replacing a system that still has higher than normal usage “could create disruptions and more delays for a lot more people than it would in normal times,” said Julia Simon Mishel, supervising attorney of the compensation unit at Philadelphia Legal Assistance.

Bugs, and even complete failure, are prevalent with significant modifications to the unemployment insurance system. According to a Century Foundation poll, as of 2016, 26% of such initiatives had failed and been abandoned, while another 38% were running late, over budget, or were “lacking crucial features and criteria.”

GSI, the company contracted to update the unemployment compensation system, already built Pennsylvania’s portal for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA, a new form of unemployment benefits created during the coronavirus recession to help workers who do not qualify for traditional unemployment. Simon-Mishel expects that the system’s modifications will be included in the new unemployment compensation site, which the administration claims has already been thoroughly tested.

What to anticipate

To avert problems, state authorities have published a slew of videos and material to assist users in navigating the new system, which is set to go live on June 8.

“I hope our users take some time to test out the new system before it goes live,” Berrier started on May 28. Beginning on Tuesday, the system will start accepting both new and ongoing unemployment claims, which are presently halted during the changeover period.

There are online lessons accessible in both English and Spanish. The Department of Labor and Industry is offering a series of live and recorded seminars in which beneficiaries and businesses may learn more about the new system.

According to Berrier, information concerning widespread difficulties will be disseminated on the department’s social media accounts or conveyed directly to people.

Because the state anticipates a large number of users on June 8, it has implemented a “waiting room” mechanism when claimants log on to prevent the system from crashing.

“If you can afford to wait a few days, wait a few days,” Simon-Mishel said, stressing that this will allow the state more time to sort out early issues and will result in shorter wait times.

Philadelphia Legal Aid has launched its own online reference database, which will also poll users on their experiences and provide news and information about bugs and repairs.

To assist with the changeover, Pennsylvania recruited 500 customer-service representatives who will be trained and ready by June 8, according to Berrier. The UC Service Center may be reached at 888-313-7284.

Claimants who have difficulty submitting online or who generally file by phone will be allowed to do so beginning June 10. The phone numbers are 888-255-4728 for English and 877-888-8104 for Spanish.

Both state and nonprofit proponents predicted that the first several weeks would be difficult, but that the new technology would gradually enhance service.

“Technology changes will always have difficulties, even if you do an excellent job,” Simon-Mishel remarked.

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Oliver Moore