UNEMPLOYMENT BENEFITS

What is the new Pennsylvania unemployment benefits system?

Pennsylvania replaced its “archaic mainframe” with a new online unemployment system on Tuesday making it easier and faster to file for benefits.

What is the new Pennsylvania unemployment benefits system?
JUSTIN SULLIVAN AFP

Pennsylvania Department of Labor & Industry (L&I) announced a makeover of its online system just weeks after bringing on more customer service staff to improve users’ experience and the agency’s ability to handle claims.

The new system will be replacing the “archaic mainframe” after 40 years in service which users found complicated when filing for benefits. Users should find the new system makes the process of filing for benefits easier and faster. It will also make processing claims more streamlined for L&I staff. Both will help the agency reduce the number of people whose claims are delayed.

Tuesday’s launch soft launch detects initial glitches

The new unemployment compensation system went live just after 3 am on Tuesday and over 41,000 had used the system before 11 am. Tuesday’s unveil was a soft launch to gather data on users’ experiences and already L&I was able to get some valuable feedback on a couple areas of concern for users.

The agency identified two issues where several users had questions. One was the payment type listed. A number of claimants who receive direct deposit reported seeing payment type listed as “debit card”. L&I said that this is not an issue with the new online system and there are no problems with the payments. Since Pennsylvania Treasury primarily stores payment data, once a payment is made the correct type should appear and no further action is needed by the filer.

A small fraction of users are having issues logging in with their Keystone ID or when attempting to change their payment type. The technicians are on the case and L&I says that a fix for the server connectivity issue is in progress.

On a side note, the state’s unemployment hotlines temporarily crashed due to a separate issue which was independent of the new online systems launch and affect several other state agencies.

L&I advises any users that have questions regarding the new system to call the Unemployment Compensation Service Center at 888-313-7284 or email uchelp@pa.gov. Hopefully, with the over 200 additional customer service representatives that were added last month wait times to get through won’t be as long. The agency also reminds claimants that “L&I is notifying affected users of status updates and system upgrades through social media, direct messaging, and on the UC System Check Enhancements Tracker.”

Users will now have a virtual "waiting room" to keep system running smoothly

Expecting a higher volume of traffic due to interest in the new system and the shortened filing week, the new system came equipped with a virtual “waiting room”. When the number of users exceeds the system’s capacity, those trying to file a claim online will be sent to a "waiting room" page automatically. This will prevent the system from slowing down or crashing for all users. Users will be put into a queue in order of their arrival on the page. As other users leave to site, new users will be admitted.

L&I urges users not to reload, try exiting and then reentering the page, or use an unstable connection like a cellphone if possible. Doing anyone of these will result in the user being sent back to the end of the queue upon returning to the page. The agency also reminds claimants that peak hours are during business hours and at the beginning of the week. So they would be less likely to end up in the “waiting room” if they try during non-business hours or later in the week.