Bill to Overhaul National Unemployment Insurance Technology


US Senate Finance Committee Chair Ron Wyden, D-Ore., Senator Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, Senator Mark Warner, D-Va., and Senator Catherine Cortez Masto, D-Nev., today introduced legislation that would establish one set of technology and security capabilities for state unemployment offices.

“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. I have heard story after story from Oregonians who have spent months trying to get their jobless benefits. That’s completely unacceptable when families are depending on these benefits to keep a roof over their heads,” Wyden said. “My bill requires a complete overhaul of unemployment insurance technology and paves the way for one website to apply for jobless benefits, not 53. The bill also requires minimum standards for accessibility and equity. Black and Hispanic workers have been far less likely to access benefits, even though they have been far more likely to lose their jobs during this crisis because they work in the hardest-hit industries. Congress must not allow another recession to come and go without reforming our unemployment insurance system, and that starts with an overhaul of technology.”

“This bill would provide the tools and support Ohio needs to update its program and make it easier for Ohioans to access the unemployment benefits they are entitled to,” Brown said. “It’s been far too long since the program got the updates it needs.”

“Nevada still has one of the highest unemployment rates in the country, with many of its workers still out of work in hard-hit industries like hospitality, and thousands of Nevadans continue to rely on jobless benefits to help support their families,” Cortez Masto said. “I am proud to support a policy that provides resources essential to delivering a more efficient and accessible unemployment system that will ensure Nevadans, and Americans across the country, can access the help they need when they need it.”

“At a moment like this, the financial wellbeing of so many families across Virginia and throughout the nation hinges on the ability of state unemployment agencies to process benefits with efficiency and precision,” Warner, a former technology entrepreneur, said. “This legislation will harness the power of technology to bring unemployment agencies into the 21st century, improving user experience and establishing strong cybersecurity measures.”

The Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act:
  • Requires the Department of Labor to work with the technology experts to develop, operate and maintain a modular set of technology capabilities to modernize unemployment compensation technology.Prioritizes user experience, including by requiring consultation and testing with claimants, employers, State workforce agency staff and other users.
  • States will be able to use all of the capabilities or choose to use only those capabilities that meet their needs.
  • The updated technology will help states ensure timely and accurate delivery of payments and better identify fraudulent claims.
  • Requires a study to evaluate unemployment insurance technology needs, with an emphasis on program accessibility and equity.
  • Establishes a new Department of Labor Digital Services Team to expand the Department’s ability to assist states with technological issues.
  • Ensures the use of best practices in cybersecurity, procurement and transparency during and after the development of the technology capabilities.
  • Includes the accessibility requirements for online claim-filing systems from Senator Wyden’s Unemployment Insurance Technology and Accessibility Act.
  • Includes provisions from Senator Wyden’s Algorithmic Accountability Act to ensure that the new technology capabilities do not rely on automated decision systems that may produce biased results without impact assessments and public input.

Bill text is available here.

Statements of Support

Andrew Stettner, Senior Fellow, The Century Foundation: “The COVID19 pandemic has exposed serious deficiencies in the technology used to process unemployment insurance (UI) claims, deficiencies that are causing unacceptable delays in payments. The good news is, we can fix these UI tech challenges. I commend Senator Wyden for developing a truly national solution that can be utilized by multiple states, embedded with sound principles of user-centered design, civil rights, and protections against algorithmic bias.”

Arnab Datta, Employ America, Senior Legislative Counsel: “The COVID crisis has underscored the fact that our macroeconomic policy response can only be as effective as the infrastructure administering it. The Unemployment Insurance Technology Modernization Act will importantly invest in federal technology systems and staff, ensuring equity across state lines. Investing in a federal, modern UI system will ensure timely benefit payments and application processing will provide large and tangible benefits for workers, employers, and the macroeconomy. Senator Wyden’s emphasis on accessibility and equity and commitment to centering jobless workers’ experiences and needs is commendable, and we’re proud he’s tackling these issues head-on. This proposal is a positive step forward towards long-overdue infrastructure developments for unemployment insurance. We hope Congress will strongly consider this bill.”

Judy Conti, Government Affairs Director, the National Employment Law Project: “NELP commends the senators for introducing this bill that is well designed to help make crucial improvements to unemployment insurance programs across the country. Unemployed workers across the country have paid a terrible price during this pandemic and recession for the shameful neglect of UI infrastructure over the past few decades. It would be nothing short of immoral for us to fail to learn our lesson and make necessary corrections before the next crisis hits. We thank Senator Wyden for his foresight and leadership and look forward to working with him to make sure this bill is signed into law.”
By Jon L. Gelman

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