Jobless in Pa. livid over new unemployment system errors as state declares victory
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A long-delayed upgrade of Pennsylvania’s computer system for unemployment benefits made a glitch-filled debut Tuesday, frustrating some jobless workers and confirming the concerns of critics who feared the new system would buckle under the heavy, pandemic-fueled demand.
Within the first 12 hours of the launch, more than 62,000 Pennsylvanians had filed claims and the Department of Labor & Industry deemed the new system a success.
At the same time, jobless advocates and scores of unemployed Pennsylvanians expressed an outpouring of frustration as a new wave of problems blocked numerous people from filing for benefits they had already been approved for.
Some people who were receiving benefits through the old system last week were told they were ineligible. Others were refused benefits because they were incorrectly identified as incarcerated. Still others had payments stopped because of overpayments that had long ago been resolved. Some notices of eligibility were bafflingly dated in the future. And a new password requirement, a problem advocates had foreseen weeks ago and raised with state officials, blocked many people from entering the system at all.
“I was so afraid for this to happen today,” said Donna Pfitzenmeyer Swangler, who moderates a Pennsylvania Unemployment Support Group on Facebook with more than 12,000 members. Roughly six dozen people had messaged her for help as of 2 p.m. while she simultaneously tried to answer questions posted on online message boards.
“They absolutely shouldn’t have done this right now with the amount of people that are claiming still,” she said. “There is just more potential for issues and different things to arise. They should have just waited.”
The computer system overhaul was more than 15 years and $200 million in the making. It has been lauded by the state as a necessary fix to the decades-old mainframe infrastructure, which officials have characterized as slow, unintuitive, and ostensibly held together with tape.
The state’s modernization efforts, however, have been marked by failure, delays, waste, and litigation.
While the state says it did extensive internal testing, only five members of the public, five legislative staffers, and five members of the employer community had tested the new software as of mid-May.
Advocates had asked the state to delay the launch until fewer people impacted by the pandemic were relying on it. Technology experts said the hardware’s durability had been mischaracterized by the state, and the nature of the overhaul — a “flip the switch” approach — was poised for failure.
April jobless numbers show as many as one million Pennsylvanians may still be relying on federal and state benefits. The new computer system, which only processes state unemployment benefits, was stood up by the same contractor, Geographic Solutions Inc., or GSI, that manages the technology for paying out federal pandemic benefits. Its technology has a poor track record in Pennsylvania and in other states.
GSI did not respond to questions Tuesday, but a spokesperson, Michelle Griffith, previously praised the company’s work in other states and readiness to launch the new system in Pennsylvania.
In January, following a new federal funding package, it took the state and GSI weeks to set up new rules associated with federal benefits. And, as a result, numerous eligible people’s claims stalled for months, many incorrectly flagged for fraud or missing information. More than 300,000 people are in a backlog waiting for their state and federal claims to be reviewed and paid out or denied.
“This is like the January PUA [federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance] launch,” Pfitzenmeyer Swangler said. “That was really bad too and I was nonstop for a week answering messages.”
Pfitzenmeyer Swangler said the new problems will only add to the backlog.
Making matters worse, the department’s phone lines temporarily crashed Tuesday morning. The phone outage was unrelated to the new unemployment system and affected several state agencies, according to the department. Phones were back online by around 11 a.m.
But in the interim, people became frantic, locked out of both the online system and the phone lines. State officials said people were placed in an online waiting room, which is triggered by a large number of people using the system, though the exact number is unknown.
Acting Labor Secretary Jennifer Berrier could not say exactly how many people must be using the system for the waiting room function to launch. She admitted the servers were running slowly because an estimated ten times as many people were logging on alongside the system launch. The state had taken the old mainframe system offline on May 31, preventing new claims from being filed, and temporarily blacking out workers’ access to recurring filing for several days before the launch.
Julia Simon-Mishel, who leads the unemployment compensation unit at Philadelphia Legal Assistance, said workers had trouble loading the system’s webpages because of heavy traffic. She’s also concerned that some people’s data may have been incorrectly carried over from the old system.
“For me the key takeaway is, do people get paid?” she said. “If people don’t get paid, then I think that’s something we have to really look at.”
Simon-Mishel said those who can afford to wait should give the state a few days to fix glitches and log in then. She noted that workers can file claims by telephone again starting Thursday if they are still having trouble.
Department officials said they identified two areas where several users had trouble. Workers who receive benefits through direct deposit saw their payment method listed as “debit card,” which the department called a “display issue.” Users do not need to take action to fix this, department officials said.
A small percentage of users also had problems logging in or changing their payment type. A fix for that “server connectivity” issue is underway, according to the department. Several workers on Facebook reported other problems, such as jobless claims that were wrongly identified as inactive.
“Whoever is in charge of this circus should be fired and have to sign up for unemployment,” one person wrote on Facebook. “This s— could not be anymore confusing.”
Nadia Warrick, a former facilities director from Feasterville, said she couldn’t log into the new system Tuesday to file for this week’s benefits. Her computer screen went blank when she tried to confirm she wasn’t a robot. When she tried again later, she was told the new username and password she had just created were incorrect.
“Anytime a new system is rolled out, you’re going to get hiccups,” Warrick said. “But at the same time, I would think that, being so far along into this pandemic, they would have been building this new platform in the background and tested it and made it sure-proof for all of us people out here in Pennsylvania, who really rely on these funds.”
Others had a smoother experience. Gennifer Spangler, a former warehouse manager for an online craft supply store, said logging in and filing a claim was “super easy.” She said the new system was more user-friendly, with a dashboard that made it easy to find and update information.
Still, technology experts warn that even indications of a smooth launch may obscure deeper problems that have to be resolved down the line.
“One of the dangers of switching in one weekend is it looks at first like everything worked,” said Waldo Jaquith, a government technology expert who works at Georgetown University’s Beeck Center for Social Impact and Innovation. “It didn’t.”
“If I can find someone who can bet against me I will,” he said. “But I never do.”
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Answering your FAQs about new unemployment system in Pennsylvania
HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania's new unemployment online system is set to launch on June 8th and already, there are plenty of questions about what this means for people who need to file a claim.
Q: Will I have to start from scratch?
A: According to the PA Department of Labor and Industry, the answer is no if you already have been filing weekly or bi-weekly claims.
Acting Secretary Jennifer Berrier said, "We are taking our old mainframe system offline. We are not deleting information. That system will basically be read-only access, it will be inactive. So if we need to access information from that system, we will be able to do that."
Q: Will I have to prove I'm looking for a job with this new system?
A: Yes, eventually. The work search requirement will return for people receiving unemployment benefits next month.
Berrier said, "Work search will be turned on on July 18th which means that UC claimants will have to search for work the previous week which would be the week of July 11th."
Q: What do I need to log into the new system?
A: The department of L&I says you will no longer use your social security number and a PIN. Instead, you'll use A Keystone ID. It's a username and password you will create the first time you access the system.
Q: Will I still get paid on time?
A: You should. the acting secretary says if you follow the proper steps listed on the department of labor and industry website when it comes to filing claims, you should get your payments on time.
"If individuals follow the appropriate directions they will not experience a delay," said Berrier.
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What you need to know about Pennsylvania’s new unemployment system
What to expect
In order to avoid issues, state officials have released a swath of tutorials and information to help users navigate the new system, which is slated to open on June 8.
“I hope our users take a little time to check out the new system before it launches, so they feel comfortable logging in,” Berrier said on May 28. Starting Tuesday, the system will resume taking both new and continuing unemployment claims, both of which are currently paused during the transition period.
Online tutorials are available in English and Spanish. The Department of Labor and Industry is hosting a series of live workshops, which are also recorded, in which recipients and employers can learn more about the new system.
Information about widespread glitches will be shared on the department’s social media channels, or communicated directly to users, said Berrier.
Expecting a high volume of users on June 8, the state has instituted a “waiting room” function when claimants log on, to keep the system from crashing.
“If you can afford to wait a few days, wait a few days,” said Simon-Mishel, explaining that will give the state more time to work out initial bugs, and that the wait times should be lower.
Philadelphia Legal Assistance has published its own online reference database, which will also be surveying users about their experiences, as well as sharing news and information about glitches and fixes.
To help deal with the transition, Pennsylvania hired 500 customer-service staff to take questions, who will be trained and ready in time for June 8, according to Berrier. The UC Service Center number is 888-313-7284.
Claimants who run into trouble filing online, or who normally file over the phone, will still be able to do so starting on June 10. The number to call will be 888-255-4728 for English or 877-888-8104 for Spanish.
The first few weeks will likely be bumpy, both state and nonprofit advocates noted, but all said they hoped the new technology would eventually improve service.
“Technology changes will always have problems, even if you do a top-notch job,” said Simon-Mishel.
WHYY is one of over 20 news organizations producing Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project on solutions to poverty and the city’s push towards economic justice. Follow us at @BrokeInPhilly.
Does Pa.’s new unemployment system work? It depends who you ask.
A project more than a decade in the making, the new web portal launched over complaints from advocates and people on unemployment that changing the system during the pandemic-induced recession would cause problems for many thousands more people than during normal times.
Since the launch at 3:05 a.m. on Tuesday, claimants and their advocates said they have seen many different kinds of errors, such as incorrect information appearing in users’ claims, issues with log-in information, messages their claims are disqualified, and the phone filing system going down.
State officials said they are monitoring and working to fix these problems, and are pleased with how the new software is performing.
“We are measuring our success at this point with the number of people who have successfully been able to file,” said Department of Labor and Industry Acting Secretary Jennifer Berrier.
As of 10:15 a.m. on Thursday, 168,000 individuals had filed claims online, according to DLI.
That’s well below the number of people likely using the system, based on the most recent numbers available. Continuing claims for unemployment have been above 210,000 for more than a year. The week of June 3, around a quarter-million Pennsylvanians submitted new or ongoing unemployment claims.
For those unable to get through the online portal, the state relaunched an updated phone-based filing system called the Pennsylvania Teleclaims system (PAT) on Thursday. That system had received around 9,161 submissions that morning, but many other users reported difficulty getting through or error messages. DLI said it is updating its FAQs based on these complaints.
“They’re trying to put a happy face on it, but there’s large numbers of people who haven’t been able to file,” said John Dodd, director of the Pennsylvania Unemployment Project.
Unemployment pa new system
UPDATE: Pa. Labor and Industry Department addresses errors and changes to new unemployment compensation system
HARRISBURG, Pa, (WHTM) — The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry (L&I) has replaced its decades-old mainframe with a new, faster, and easier-to-use Unemployment Compensation (UC) system on Tuesday, June 8.
“Today, Pennsylvania’s Unemployment Compensation system took a giant leap forward not just in terms of technology, but in the quality of service we are able to provide,” Active Secretary Jennifer Berrier said. “L&I staff have been working hard to make the transition to this new system seamless for users. As we see users logging on and successfully filing their claims in this faster and easier-to-use system, we are thrilled to see our vision of a modern, intuitive unemployment has finally come to fruition.”
As of Tuesday morning, L&I tweeted about a Commonwealth-wide phone outage impacting many phone lines and the ability to made and received calls.
The online UC system is back up and running and phone services have been restored. Claimants can now use the customer service lines for bot unemployment compensation and pandemic unemployment assistance.
All eligible UC and PEUC claimants will be able to file for available weeks and filing will change from biweekly to weekly.
In addition, most claimants will not see a delay in their benefits because the offline period will fall from Thursday to Monday.
As changes begin to roll out, the department encourages claimants to familiarize themselves with the new system through a series of 25 workshops and other easy-to-use tools and helpful resources online by clicking here.
|– You should file every week instead of every other week|
– You will then get paid every week instead of every other week
– You no longer have to file by Friday each week
|– Starting June 10, you can file weekly claims by phone. You will need to provide your SSN and PIN that you currently use to log into the UC system.|
– Pennsylvania Teleclaims (PAT) Toll-free: 888-255-4728 or PAT Español: 877-888-8104
The previous 40-year-old system was reportedly riddled with issues getting unemployment benefits to Pennsylvanians during the pandemic.
“The pandemic stressed an already-antiquated IT platform and we look forward to improving the process so that out-of-work Pennsylvanians can focus their time and attention on finding a new job,” Berrier said.
On Friday, January 11, Acting Secretary Berrier went live to discuss the updates and changes to the new system. According to Berrier, as of Friday morning, 204,000 individuals have filed for weekly benefits using the new online system and more than 17,000 have filed initial claims. Plus, more than 25,000 individuals use the phone system to file weekly certifications, thus far.
All in all, more than 247,000 have filed for new or weekly claims since the start of the new system on Tuesday, June 8. According to Berrier, the system has issued a total of $115 million to 142,000 individuals who have filed.
“We have come a long way in just two days since the new system came online, and while we still have some work to do, we feel as though we’re in a good place with identifying our outstanding issues,” Berrier said.
The department is now continuing to work on reaching out to those individuals that have filed claims in the past before the system was in place. Plus, they are working to resolve issues they have seen since the start on Tuesday.
Such issues include an error some individuals received when attempting to create or log into a recently created Keystone ID. In response to a question, Berrier also pointed to the “work search” question some individuals had come face-to-face with, which asks them if they have engaged in work search activities in the prior week.
Berrier stressed that the department is aware of the issue and currently working to fix it. In the meantime, Berrier suggests not to answer the question, but to log out of the claim and wait to be notified that the issue was fixed. If an individual selects”no” when answering the question, they can be deemed ineligible for the benefits.
More updates are to come, please check back for more information.
Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.Sours: https://www.abc27.com/news/pennsylvania/new-unemployment-compensation-system-what-you-need-to-know/
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