HARRISBURG (KDKA) - The state is launching a new unemployment compensation system to replace the current one, which has been described as "held together with bubble gum and rubber bands."
When COVID hit last year, the state's unemployment system was deluged with claims, going from an average 40,000 new claims a month to 2.5 million. Struggling to process them all was an antiquated 40-year-old computer system due for replacement.
The Department of Labor and Industry says the new system will launch on June 8, and will also handle programs like pandemic emergency unemployment compensation and extended benefits.
Rather than risk replacing the system in the middle of the pandemic, the unemployment bureau hobbled along as the complaints poured in: delayed or lost checks, unanswered phone calls, unheard appeals. The state says a brand new computer system will change all that.
"Change is never easy but in the case of a 40-year-old technology, time for change has come. Ultimately, this new system will make the process of filing for unemployment claims easier for everyone," said Acting Labor Secretary Jennifer Berrier.
On June 8, the bureau will be switching over to a $32 million dollar, state-of-the-art web-based computer system designed to make it easy to certify weekly claims, file new claims, file an appeal and check payment status. Berrier says the state can now transition because new claims have been diminishing.
"Which means out-of-work Pennsylvanians will be better able to focus their attention on what we know they really want to focus on: finding a new job," she said.
The department says the new system is more aligned with the user interface of modern websites, making it more intuitive to use. More information and self-serve options aim to reduce the need for people to call in for help with their claims.
The state concedes there will likely be some hiccups. The old system must be taken down for two weeks to transfer data to the new one. And both state workers and recipients must learn how to use the system. To that end, the state will offer web video user guides and online workshops.
State Senator Camera Bartolotta, who chairs the Senate's Labor and Industry Committee, is confident in the system achieving those goals.
"It's going to be much easier for people to check on the status of their claim, receive an email, get answers to their questions that they've been trying to get answers to for quite some time," she said.
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