Senate Committees Dig Deeper on Flaws in PA’s Unemployment Compensation System

HARRISBURG – Today, members of the Pennsylvania Senate Labor and Industry and Communications and Technology Committees held a joint hearing to examine issues on the Unemployment Compensation system during the COVID-19 pandemic. This hearing included discussion of issues that have been raised during the COVID-19 disaster emergency, including problems with UC computer systems and applications, the number of claimants who have applied for benefits and have not yet received payments, the troubled roll-out of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program, how hundreds of millions of dollars of funding for UC computer and technology upgrades authorized by the General Assembly was used to actually improve the system, the timeline for the hundreds of thousands of outstanding claims to be processed, and how getting more employers and employees back to work will impact the UC system.

Governor Wolf’s stay-at-home order has forced numerous employers to remain closed since March 19. The governor’s actions have since pushed more than 1.8 million Pennsylvanians into the Unemployment Compensation system, leading to long delays, appalling mistakes, and total confusion for thousands of claimants.

During the hearing, Senator Bob Mensch (R-24) asked a number of questions about the technological issues that Labor and Industry is facing and raised concerns about the future of the unemployment compensation system.

 “Where will we go the next time we have a situation like this,” Senator Mensch asked. The response was that the governor has begun looking at this, but the world of work at the Commonwealth level is going to look different. The Department of Labor and Industry stated that they do not plan on buying anymore desktops, and have created a virtual mail room.

Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Jerry Oleksiak testified that his department received nearly twice as many unemployment claims in the first seven weeks of the pandemic than in any other entire calendar year over the past two decades. A staffing compliment appropriate for the sustained period of low unemployment that preceded the COVID-19 pandemic also led to many of the problems experienced by claimants during the crisis.

“At the height of the Great Recession, we had nearly 1,500 UC Service Centers staff members on hand to respond to the crisis. Right before this pandemic, we had just 679 staff in the UC Service Centers,” Oleksiak said. “As of today, we have one UC staff person for about every 2,500 UC claims we’ve received since March 15.”

Testifiers from the Department of Labor and Industry included Jerry Oleksiak, Secretary; Bob O’Brien, Executive Deputy Secretary; and Bill Trusky, Deputy Secretary for UC Programs. Additionally, Alex Halper, Director of Government Affairs, Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, Julia Simon-Mishel, Supervising Attorney – Unemployment Compensation Unit, Philadelphia Legal Assistance, and Chris Hackett, President and CEO of i2M provided testimony.

The joint hearing today was part of a series of hearings held by Senate committees this week to explore different aspects of Governor Wolf’s response to the public health emergency. Full video and testimony from all of the hearings will be available online at https://www.pasenategop.com/committee-activity/.

 

For a full video of the joint hearing, visit: https://pasen.wistia.com/medias/zfr4rp3d0h

For more information on Senator Mensch’s legislation, visit www.senatormensch.com.  State updates can also be found on Senator Mensch’s Facebook at facebook.com/PASenatorBobMensch/ or Twitter @SenatorMensch.

 

 

CONTACT: Madison Scarfaro mscarfaro@pasen.gov  (215) 541-2388