Lawmakers Push Unemployment Tech Upgrade

Frustrated job seeker at laptop
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The patchwork of state unemployment systems, which has often left claimants waiting weeks or longer for benefits during the pandemic, will get a long overdue tech upgrade if a bill introduced Wednesday by Democratic lawmakers is passed. 

The bill would task the U.S. Department of Labor with developing standardized technology that could be adopted by state unemployment agencies with the goal of delivering payments quickly while weeding out fraudulent claims.

When the pandemic hit, state unemployment agencies faced an unprecedented number of claims as 22 million people lost their jobs in a matter of two months. And it hardly let up: Between the beginning of the pandemic and the end of 2020, government unemployment agencies saw 68 million new claims. Given the wave of applications, it’s little wonder that the system has been fraught with delays that have left benefits seekers fuming.

“While enhanced jobless benefits have enabled millions and millions of families to pay the rent and buy groceries, many states have been unable to get benefits out the door in a timely manner,” said Senator Ron Wyden, a Democrat from Oregon who sponsored the bill, in a press release. “I have heard story after story from Oregonians who have spent months trying to get their jobless benefits. That’s completely unacceptable when families are depending on these benefits to keep a roof over their heads.”

The bill, which provides $500 million for the project, would not offer an overnight fix, though —it sets a two-year deadline for the changes to take place.