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Report Urges Governor-Elect to Fix PA Unemployment System


Wednesday, December 7, 2022   

A new report urges Pennsylvania's governor-elect to revamp the state's unemployment compensation system as soon as he takes office in January.

The Keystone Research Center report said Pennsylvania's online unemployment system fails the people who need it, by not processing claims in a timely manner. It found only 56% of claimants receive their first payment within 10 weeks.

Stephen Herzenberg, executive director of the Keystone Research Center and the report's co-author, said prior to the pandemic, the online unemployment system was compromised by IT issues and staff cutbacks, so it was overwhelmed when the pandemic hit. He said the backlog of claims peaked at over 300,000, which delayed or denied benefits to many.

"The new governor needs to understand, and not duck, the broken system," Herzenberg asserted. "It's quite likely that in the next four years, we'll go into another recession, so this needs to be an urgent priority. And we also need to modernize the system, because it was built for the 1930s economy."

The report suggests several recommendations for Gov.-Elect Josh Shapiro, from appointing a special team to review the system, to restoring in-person unemployment service centers. In the meantime, the most recent figures show Pennsylvania's unemployment rate is 4%, and more than 250,000 people are receiving unemployment benefits.

Herzenberg added unemployment insurance benefits are used to put money in people's pockets to help them with their everyday needs, and to help lift the economy out of a downturn. But he noted unemployed workers are unable to pay their bills when they have to wait many weeks for their first unemployment compensation payments.

"Undoubtedly puts a lot more families at risk of bankruptcy, at risk of eviction, at risk of paying additional economic, and social and emotional, costs because of their unemployment," Herzenberg stressed.

He pointed out the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry has received federal grant money to provide in-person service across the state to people who are unemployed to sign up with CareerLink, which provides resources to help them find new jobs.

Disclosure: Keystone Research Center contributes to our fund for reporting on Budget Policy and Priorities, and Livable Wages/Working Families. If you would like to help support news in the public interest, click here.

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