HARRISBURG – The COVID-19 pandemic forced Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system to adapt by enabling displaced workers and employers to participate by video in unemployment compensation appeal hearings. The state House today approved a bill introduced by Rep. Jim Cox (R-Berks/Lancaster) to make sure the system remains modernized and doesn’t slip back into its old, inconvenient ways.
“They say necessity is the mother of innovation, and that was the case with Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation appeal hearing process,” said Cox, who serves as chairman of the House Labor and Industry Committee, which is charged with overseeing the state’s unemployment compensation system. “We want to ensure the progress we’ve made with modernizing the system will be maintained going forward.”
When a displaced Pennsylvania worker applies for unemployment compensation benefits, the applicant’s eligibility to collect benefits is determined by staff at the Commonwealth’s Unemployment Compensation Service Centers.
If the worker or the worker’s former employer disagrees with the determination, either party may appeal the decision. Appeals are handled by the Unemployment Compensation Board of Review (UCBR).
Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, UCBR appeal hearings were conducted in person or over the phone. Health and safety initiatives enacted to combat the spread of COVID-19 led to a halt in in-person hearing participation. Hearings during the pandemic have been held entirely over the phone.
Cox points to the system’s history of dragging its feet with adopting new technology as a core reason for his bill. The Legislature approved and the governor signed into law Act 6 of 2011, which directed the Department of Labor and Industry to help UCBR upgrade its systems so each party could participate over the phone. That law included no hard deadline for implementation, and the department and UCBR both delayed implementation of the modernization process.
“This bureaucratic process, like so many others, has been resistant to previous efforts aimed at modernization,” Cox said. “We want to ensure the bureaucrats follow through this time so hearing participants can take advantage of widely available and convenient video conferencing technology.”
Cox’s House Bill 129
includes a deadline to require full implementation of the use of video conferencing for UCBR hearings within three years.
“This is a convenience we are offering to displaced workers and their former employers, and we want to make sure it happens in a timely manner,” Cox said. “It’s a shame we have to go to such lengths to get the bureaucracy to respond to the needs of and provide what’s most convenient for participants.”
Cox’s legislation now heads to the state Senate for consideration.
Representative Jim Cox
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Daniel Massing