HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) — After a year of frustration over long waits for checks, jammed phone lines and confusing online filing procedures, Pennsylvania's Department of Labor and Industry is promising a much quicker and easier unemployment compensation claims filing system in two months.
The new system, scheduled to launch on June 8, is based on what the department said Thursday is modern software to replace an "obsolete 40-year-old mainframe legacy system."
It arrives after a series of bungled efforts to replace the system began in 2006 and culminated in a 2017 lawsuit that is still being fought in court.
The new online system “looks and functions like a modern website, unlike our current one," acting Labor and Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier told reporters in a news conference. It is more intuitive and easier to use on a tablet or mobile phone, she said.
To transfer data to the new system, users will be unable to file unemployment claims for two weeks in June, delaying payments to people filing for traditional unemployment benefits, Berrier said.
Its rollout will be accompanied by training materials and live workshops, she said.
Pandemic-related shutdowns starting last spring stressed the unemployment compensation system like never before, as claims shot to record levels and swamped a barebones staff forced to work remotely.
Complaints about the system have continued even a year later as the department has struggled to hire and train new employees on a complex system and absorb new jobless benefits programs on the fly.
“The new system will be easy to use, provide access to important information and streamline the unemployment claim filing process for workers, employers, unemployment program staff, and third-party administrators,” Berrier said.
The new system was created by Palm Harbor, Florida-based Geographic Solutions Inc. on a $30.2 million contract, plus some ancillary costs, Berrier said.
The new system will handle claims and appeals for unemployment compensation, pandemic emergency unemployment compensation, extended benefits, shared work or short-time compensation and trade readjustment allowances.
The new system also will allow users to check the status of a payment, use a dashboard to receive message from state workers and manage certain options on their account.
The system had been close to being introduced last year when the pandemic hit, Berrier said, but the department put it on hold to manage the surge in unemployment claims as businesses shut down and people hunkered down at home.
With claims on a downward trend this spring, department officials decided they could go forward with introducing the system, Berrier said.