Pennsylvania’s long-awaited overhaul of its rickety unemployment claims filing system went live on Tuesday, with some users immediately complaining about glitches and the state agency that runs the program reporting a phone outage that temporarily prevented it from making or receiving calls.
More than a year after the coronavirus pandemic swamped the state's 40-year-old claims system, officials promised the replacement would be easy to use, both simplify and speed up the process of filing a claim, and incorporate features meant to reduce fraud.
By midday Tuesday, more than 62,000 people had successfully filed using the new system — a quarter of all people receiving traditional jobless benefits and extended benefits provided by the federal coronavirus relief package, according to the Department of Labor & Industry.
“When our new unemployment system came online, Pennsylvania took a gigantic leap forward,” said Jennifer Berrier, the department's acting secretary.
But many other people trying to migrate to the new website quickly ran into trouble — and weren't shy about expressing their displeasure online.
Debra Faulhefer spent about three hours trying to register on the new system.
“What a frustrating morning,” Faulhefer, 61, of Macungie, told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “But I was expecting it. I would’ve fallen over if it were smooth sailing.”
Faulhefer said the system would not allow her to choose direct deposit as her method of payment, only debit card, which she did not want. She logged out and then tried logging back in to see if that would help — only to be frozen out of her account entirely because the system didn’t recognize her new password.
“They did not thoroughly check the whole system,” she said. “How did they test this? I want to know how they tested this. Come on! It’s got all these hang-ups.”
Many other claimants also expressed alarm when the system told them they’d receive benefits by debit card and not direct deposit. The Department of Labor & Industry said it was “just a display issue and not a problem with payment type,” and that the system would update automatically once the next payment was made.
Labor & Industry also acknowledged some users got “invalid password” messages, while others had trouble connecting to the server. It said fixes were in progress.
Berrier said the new system had undergone extensive testing, but that glitches were inevitable with the rollout of any new information technology project.
“We are working quickly and as fast and hard as possible ... to ensure that these issues are addressed," said Berrier, adding, “We hear your frustration and we take it to heart.”
The department also reported a phone outage that prevented it from making or receiving calls — an issue that impacted all state government call centers that use Skype — but service was restored by midday Tuesday.
Pennsylvania had been relying on an ancient mainframe computer system to process unemployment benefits. That system was overwhelmed by a record-shattering number of claims last year. The replacement computer system that went live on Tuesday had been under development since 2006 and was plagued by delays and cost overruns.