Democrats want jobless-system overhaul
Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden is leading an effort to modernize state unemployment insurance systems through updated technology that would be centralized at the federal level.
Wyden, along with Democratic Senators Sherrod Brown, Mark Warner and Catherine Cortez Masto, introduced the Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act of 2021 on Wednesday, which would require the Labor Department to develop standardized technology for states to use for unemployment filings.
The bill “paves the way” for developing a single website for Americans to apply for jobless benefits — versus the 53 that are used now, Wyden said in a news release. It isn’t clear if the legislation would qualify for the reconciliation process and thus may require Republican support to pass.
“While enhanced jobless benefits have enabled millions and millions of families to pay the rent and buy groceries, many states have been unable to get benefits out the door in a timely manner,” Wyden said. “That’s completely unacceptable when families are depending on these benefits to keep a roof over their heads.”
Since March, state unemployment systems have been plagued with technology glitches due to outdated systems and record-high unemployment resulting from the pandemic. That caused Americans to face long delays in receiving benefits.
In 2010, 35 states participated in a federal program that allocated funding to states to improve their unemployment insurance systems, but “despite spending billions of dollars, it clearly did not solve any of the problems” that came about during the pandemic, said Elizabeth Pancotti, senior adviser at Employ America.
While some states have improved their systems in recent months, just 10 currently meet the federal standard of paying out 87% of benefits within 21 days of filing, according to data from The Century Foundation.
“Congress must not allow another recession to come and go without reforming our unemployment insurance system, and that starts with an overhaul of technology,” Wyden said.