Make the PA Unemployment System Work for Our Citizens

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We believe the basic problem is that there are not enough workers to assist claimants and to make eligibility determinations. 

The unemployment system has been a disaster for laid off workers for the past two and a half years.

People universally have not been able to reach anyone on the phone to try to get help with any problems.

Hundreds of thousands of claimants have waited for months to have their eligibility determined.

Large percentages of people cannot even open claims due to difficulty dealing with the computer system and the inability to talk to anyone to help with a claim.

Many others have been locked out of their claims on the computer and cannot reach any worker for assistance.

Below is data showing the contacts with UC claimants that have been tracked by the Philadelphia Unemployment Project.  It lays out problem areas for this year and shows that issues for claimants have been climbing recently despite lower rates of unemployment in the Commonwealth.

Often, when folks are struggling to file for unemployment, they will google something like “Philadelphia Unemployment” which brings up our PUP website and people contact us, since the state website does not offer assistance or phone contact. At our site, we have a help form that can be filled out where unemployment issues can be shared for us to send to the claimant advocate. The line graph above shows the numbers of help forms filled out at for the last year and a half. A spike soon after the beginning of the new computer system (Ben Mod) in June of 2021 can be seen, as well as a dip down when PUA ended in September of 2021. We are seeing an increase in help requests since January 2022 as the graph finishes with August of 2022.

This pie chart represents the 2207 unemployed workers’ requests for help that the Philadelphia Unemployment Project has received either by phone, email, or online form just since February of this year (2022).  

As you can see, the largest piece of the chart, 26.9%, represents the folks that are waiting for a determination towards their eligibility for unemployment benefits. Some folks have been waiting months for the Department to process their claims. In many instances, L&I may be waiting for the employer to respond despite a legal requirement that benefit decisions must be made after 14 days if their employers do not respond.

The 2nd largest segment, 19.9%, are folks that are having a hard time filing online. They either are uncomfortable with technology, lack the device/internet access, or may encounter system glitches while attempting to file. This segment of the population needs in-person help. The Department’s part-time staffing at the Careerlinks is a step in the right direction, but more assistance is still needed so claimants can get help in a timely fashion. The 3rd largest portion represents people that are having problems logging back into the system to file weekly certifications after once getting through initially to apply. 

Labor and Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier in a June 30, 2022 letter to Legislators wrote that “L&I has faced struggles in recruitment and retention of staff… We agree with you: to fully staff our service centers with interviewers and examiners, we need to offer better pay.”

The Department would better serve unemployed workers that are experiencing serious delays in receiving their benefits by increasing wages in order to hire more staff and fill the extensive shortfalls in staffing that have wreaked havoc with the Department’s ability to properly serve deserving workers and their families in a timely manner.

Prepared by Philadelphia Unemployment Project 112 N. Broad St. Philadelphia, PA 19102, 215-557-0822

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