Two and a half years after our economy was shut down to stop the Pandemic’s deadly effect, the State of Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Program remains broken. In a “White Paper” to be released by the Keystone Research Center, the authors call for the Governor-Elect to finally fix the system.
As it stands now, despite the number of people having to apply for unemployment benefits being drastically below the peak pandemic level, there is a lengthy backlog of applications waiting to be evaluated. The average wait for a first-level appeal has increased from 26 to 177 days since 2018; second-level appeals have increased from 86 to 196 days.
Literally, thousands of laid-off workers are without income, waiting for Pennsylvania’s Unemployment System to review the claims and make determinations. Because the phones are constantly busy and Pennsylvania has closed all its unemployment offices, it is very difficult for people to find out what the problem with their application is and what they can do to fix it.
Governor Wolf, during the Pandemic, instead of hiring more workers to review the claims, opening emergency offices, and adding workers to the phone centers, “outsourced” the service to a for-profit company. The company requires laid-off workers to have internet access and be computer savvy to apply for and receive the benefits for which the worker and their employer paid. From Pennsylvania’s Office of Unemployment Compensations web page, “The interactive system is not suited to a paper application due to the interactive nature of the application. You will need to process an application via the system or speak to a UC claim representative.”
And if one makes a mistake filling out the online application, one cannot correct it. Not even typos can be corrected. Again from the web page: “There is no editing functionality once fact-finding is saved. Claimants should ensure all the information is complete and accurate before they save. If claimants require changes, they can upload documentation to support their requested changes. The new UC system is designed to prevent modifying information used in the determination and appeal process.”https://www.uc.pa.gov/unemployment-benefits/UCBenMod/Pages/FAQs.aspx
It should be clear to most people that a system that relies upon the internet, computer skills and does not allow for the correction of mistakes is highly problematic. How can one pay for internet service if one has no income? How many of us are really computer savvy? And what kind of vendor working with the general public doesn’t develop a system that allows average people to fix mistakes?
The Keystone Research Group and the Philadelphia Unemployment Project will release recommendations on how to fix the broken system at a press conference outside the Governor’s Office in Philadelphia. Tune in to Hall Monitor this Wednesday at 6 pm, Comcast channel 66, Fios channel 29/30, to see coverage of the news conference and what can be done to help those who the Federal Reserve wants to see laid off as “volunteers” to fight inflation.