This post was written May 04, 2021, by Sharon M. Dietrich, Litigation Director at Community Legal Services.
The PA Department of Labor and Industry intends to implement Unemployment Compensation Benefits Modernization – a new computer system for UC benefits — on June 8, 2021. “BenMod” will be a seismic change in how UC claimants, employers, and Department staff experience the UC system. While many of the changes will be positive, rushing implementation of this system now makes no sense, especially when there is no deadline by which it needs to be done. To avoid committing a huge unforced error, DLI should postpone implementation of BenMod until at least September.
- The population of people on UC at this time is very high, but can be expected to drop over the summer. Quite simply, the stakes of this computer implementation working are very high, because an enormous number of people are currently collecting UC benefits. The Commonwealth’s unemployment rate is 7.3%, virtually unchanged since October 2020. As of March, 1,095,010 Pennsylvanians were receiving UC benefits. If even 10% of recipients cannot obtain or locate passwords or manage the new software without help (a very conservative estimate), the strain on an already overtaxed system will be immense. However, the recipiency level is likely to decrease over the summer, as the State continues to reopen and completed vaccination numbers increase from the current 33%.
- There will be a blackout period connected with BenMod when ordinary work in the UC system will cease. This blackout period, beginning on May 30th, will include disruption of taking new claims and payment of existing ones. This blackout period will be keenly felt by the unemployed, who already have been traumatized by repeated disruption of their benefits since the pandemic/recession began. Having it early in the month unfortunately also coincides with when many people’s bills come due.
- BenMod implementation will divert DLI management, staff, and its IT contractor from fixing other dire ongoing problems in the UC and PUA systems. The incidence of problems in these systems has been well documented. Most notably, in the UC system, around 300,000 claims await determinations. In the PUA system, hundreds of thousands of claims are “in progress,” in violation of federal constitutional law and the Social Security Act. Geographic Solutions, Inc., DLI’s IT contractor, certainly will not be running programming to correct these illegalities while it is implementing BenMod.
- DLI is not ready to implement BenMod. Community education is just starting. Questions about the impact on the UC system have not been answered. There does not appear to be an IT support number to help people who experience difficulties. Instead, people experiencing BenMod problems will join the ranks of those whose phone calls and emails already are not answered.
There is simply no need for these severe consequences, just to live up to the announced June 8th deployment date. DLI should do the right thing and postpone BenMod implementation.