– Thousands of Pennsylvania families relying on unemployment compensation benefits to put food on their tables and roofs over their heads may have to begin applying for those benefits using a brand-new system beginning Oct. 5. They won’t know until Sept. 21 – approximately two weeks before the new system may go live – whether they have to apply using the current system or the new system. That’s what Chairman Jim Cox (R-Berks/Lancaster) and other members of the House Labor and Industry Committee learned at a hearing today in the state Capitol.
“My heart goes out to these families that are just trying to access the benefits they’ve earned through the unemployment compensation system,” Cox said. “The Department of Labor and Industry has not made a decision, so we can’t even tell applicants which system they’ll have to use to apply for benefits on Oct. 5 – and that’s only two-and-a-half weeks away!”
Plans to upgrade Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation user application system have been in the works for years. The project began back in 2005 under the administration of then-Gov. Ed Rendell.
After 12 years of mismanagement by the Department of Labor and Industry and hundreds of millions of dollars wasted with little to show for it, the Legislature in 2017 authorized another multi-year plan with more than $100 million in funding. This time, however, it established a Benefit Modernization Advisory Committee to help hold accountable the department and the outside vendor it contracted to create the system.
After the advisory committee recently voted to recommend delaying implementation again, Cox decided to convene a hearing.
“The taxpayers funding this new system and the applicants who are going to have to use it deserve to know whether or not it will be ready on Oct. 5,” Cox said.
Cox said he’s more disappointed and angered by the department’s failure to make a decision than he would have been if they simply said they needed more time.
“If they came in and told us they aren’t ready because of the record number of claims they’re trying to process due to COVID-19, we obviously would have been disappointed, but we understand the unique circumstances,” Cox said. “Their failure to make a decision has real-world consequences for the people relying on this program to pay for groceries and housing.”
The two weeks between the decision date and the possible launch of the new system provides little opportunity for public education about the switch.
Julia Simon-Mishel serves as supervising attorney with Philadelphia Legal Assistance and is the House Democrats’ appointee to the Benefit Modernization Advisory Committee. She stated during the hearing that public awareness campaigns for this large of a program change would traditionally require approximately six weeks.
“At this point, the Department of Labor and Industry could not meet its own standard for a successful program rollout even if it wanted to,” Cox said.
Cox said he and the other members on the committee have little choice but to wait and watch to see what officials at the Department of Labor and Industry decide on Monday, Sept. 21.
“If they decide to launch the new system, we’ll do everything we can as legislators to help local families navigate the program,” Cox said. “If they delay implementation, we’ll work to identify why this department once again has failed to meet a deadline. At this point, we’re left waiting to see how we can best help clean up a mess created by the Department of Labor and Industry, which unfortunately is a situation that’s become all too common.”
Representative Jim Cox
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Daniel Massing