L&I launches modernized UC benefits system amid continued criticism

Pennsylvania on Tuesday replaced its 40-year-old unemployment benefit system after a years-long process to implement a more intuitive filing method. The ‘outdated mainframe’, which has resulted in a large backlog of claims throughout the pandemic that persists today, has been ditched for a ‘faster and easier to use’ system, according to the Department of Labor and Health. ‘Pennsylvania Industry.

Acting L&I Secretary Jennifer Berrier said the new system went live for a soft launch at 3:08 a.m. this morning and by 1 p.m. more than 62,000 users had successfully filed claims of benefits. “To put this into context, the same number of people who accessed the new system in the last 12 hours exceeds the same number of people who would have access to the mainframe in an entire week before the pandemic,” Berrier said. .

The unemployment system has come under scrutiny across the state, especially over the past year, as it has been overwhelmed with a record number of jobless claims.

Berrier said it was a “huge improvement” over the old system, but the transition had its problems. She said some users were encountering an error while trying to create a Keystone ID and they were working to resolve it. Not only that, but a phone outage interrupted service this morning – unrelated to the new system, but customer service lines were restored soon after.

The overhaul follows growing criticism that the department has continued to leave claimants dry. The pandemic has exacerbated problems in almost every sector, but for those who needed benefits, the overstretched system went from frustration to complete failure. Now, with hundreds of thousands of claimants still awaiting a decision, unemployment advocates say now is not the time to make that transition.

“The timing is terrible considering the huge backlog they have,” John Dodds, director of the Philadelphia Unemployment Project, told City & State PA. “If they don’t have the capacity to do the job, they need to take out the money and not expect people to bear the burden of their inability to handle the workload.”

Under the new system, all eligible unemployment and pandemic unemployment claimants will be able to file a weekly claim. The system was closed from May 30 to June 8 for new claimants, but L&I said most claimants would not see a delay in their benefits.

L&I has also recruited approximately 500 additional staff members recently to provide customer service over the phone, allowing more experienced employees to handle specific complaint issues. Berrier said the new system allows information to be uploaded quickly from the applicant and employer side, and applicants can use a series of 25 workshops to familiarize themselves with the new system.

Whatever changes are put in place, Dodd said those who have been waiting for months for an answer need immediate help.

“These are not social benefits. These are dollars that are taken out of your paycheck each week and are intended to pay you when you are out of work. And [L&I is] not meeting that test,” Dodd said. L&I said there are approximately 289,000 applications awaiting determination, but that figure likely includes many ineligible and fraudulent applicants. Overall, more than 94% of claims filed during the pandemic have been paid or deemed ineligible, according to L&I.

Dodd urged the state to pay benefits to anyone whose decision has not been made within three weeks and to continue payments until their claim is resolved. He said it’s not ideal to go back and ask for money from those who end up being overpaid, but it’s better than “letting people starve for months”.

Although Berrier gave no timeline on when the backlog will be reduced, she said the “behind the scenes” features of the new system will allow them to process claims and deal with potential fraud more quickly.

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