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.” KDKA's Andy Sheehan reports.
STACY SMITH: Now, all year long, we have heard from those who have lost their jobs because of the pandemic. There are complaints about payment delays and unanswered phone calls at the state office of unemployment compensation. Well, now the state is saying a new $32 million computer upgrade may change all of that. Good evening, and thank you for joining us at 6:00. I'm Stacy Smith.
KYM GABLE: And I'm Kym Gable. So what could be changing, and how will it help you? KDKA investigator Andy Sheehan joins us live now with some answers to that. Andy.
ANDY SHEEHAN: Kym, the state says that many of those problems stem from an old, antiquated computer system that just couldn't handle the volume. The hope is that a new one will. When COVID hit last year, the state's unemployment system was deluged with claims, going from an average 40,000 a month to 2 and 1/2 million. Struggling to process them all was an antiquated 40-year-old computer system due for replacement.
JENNIFER BERRIER: And we had almost reached that goal line when our plans, like so many others, were interrupted last year.
ANDY SHEEHAN: 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 may change all that.
JENNIFER BERRIER: Change is never easy. But in the case of a 40-year-old technology, the time for change has come.
ANDY SHEEHAN: On June 8, the Bureau will be switching over to a $32 million state-of-the-art computer system designed to make it easier to certify weekly claims, file new claims, file an appeal, and check payment status. Labor and Industry Acting Secretary Jennifer Berrier says the state can now transition because new claims have been diminishing.
JENNIFER BERRIER: 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.
ANDY SHEEHAN: 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.
CAMERA BARTOLOTTA: Once the new system is up and running, it should be much easier and much more efficient.
ANDY SHEEHAN: State Senator Camera Bartolotta, who chairs the Senate's Labor and Industry Committee, is confident in the system achieving those goals.
CAMERA BARTOLOTTA: It's going to be much easier to manage. It's going to be much easier for people to check on the status of their claim, to send an email, receive an email, get answers to their questions that they've been trying to get answers for for quite some time.
ANDY SHEEHAN: And we are still getting complaints from people who can't get their unemployment checks. But over the past two months, the pace of those complaints has slowed. The hope here is that this new system will settle those scores as well. Reporting live downtown, Andy Sheehan, "KDKA News."