For those who will sit down at the kitchen table this week, ready to easily reconcile household bills versus income, imagine this: The electric bill has landed. So has the mortgage payment. Then there’s the credit card statements, ballooned with food and gasoline purchases that couldn’t be paid with cash because, well, there is no cash.
Imagine you lost your job and you gained a sense of insecurity and anxiety like you’ve never before known.
And imagine that the unemployment safety net you never before needed — that you paid into for years — has failed you.
It’s enough to make a person cry.
And it should be enough to spark a sense of crisis and the expected action needed to remedy that crisis.
In short, this scene — faced by thousands of Pennsylvanians — should command a pull-out-all-the-stops effort to fix the problem with the state’s unemployment benefits system.
Pennsylvanians have gone without unemployment benefits for reasons they simply cannot fathom. Perhaps it’s the backlog of claims from so many who were left jobless due to the pandemic. Perhaps it was the June 8 “upgrade” to the state Department of Labor and Industry’s computer system that handles jobless benefits. In fact, the recent upgrade — which was supposed to make the unemployment benefits system better — has resulted in thousands of claimants finding that their benefits stopped coming according to the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee and the Community Legal Services in Philadelphia. Both groups help individuals access their benefits.
The problems with the new system range from sticky log-in and mystifying messages that claims were invalid.
A spokesperson for the Department of Labor and Industry said state officials are working with advocacy groups and are reviewing claimants’ contentions that they’re being denied their due.
At the same time, the department has called the computer upgrade a success and has said nearly 1.6 million payments have been made since the launch of the new system.
That’s good for those who got the payments. But what about those who didn’t?
Activists estimate that some 315,000 statewide are waiting for word about benefits to which they believe they’re entitled. The state disputes this figures and says the backlog actually is smaller due to fraudulent claims.
Well, how much smaller? And does it really matter? If there is one person without the means he deserves, that is one too many.
Elected officials must get involved. Ultimately, this is their responsibility.
State officials have said the legitimate backlog constitutes a group of claims that require manual review. Well, either bring on the staff necessary to complete this manual review — quickly — or grant jobless benefits on an interim basis until the review is complete then worry about collecting reimbursement later if the claim ultimately is denied.
— Pittsburgh Post-Gazette/TNS