Washington, D.C. — U.S. Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) and Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) joined Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in introducing legislation to incentivize states to upgrade their outdated unemployment insurance IT infrastructure. The Unemployment Insurance Technology and Accessibility Act would create a $500 million Department of Labor grant program to provide states with funds to upgrade their technology. States that do not meet accessibility criteria within two years would be required to repay the grant.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has left many states with outdated, underfunded, and understaffed unemployment insurance systems unable to rapidly respond to the skyrocketing number of UI claims—often meaning frustrating application processes and long wait times for individuals and families who lost their jobs through no fault of their own due to the coronavirus,” said the Senators. “We need to bring these UI systems into the 21st century and make sure that every person in Nevada and across the country is able to get the assistance they need during these difficult times. This legislation, which we’re proud to help introduce, is a step in the right direction and will help states serve Americans in need faster and more efficiently.”
Many states run their systems on COBOL, a 60-year-old programming language, which slows claims processing and makes the system hard to maintain. Upgrading this outdated technology is necessary not only for efficient administration, but also to ensure unemployed workers are able to access benefits.
For example, some state application systems aren’t accessible on mobile devices, even though many workers only have access to mobile devices. Lack of a mobile-friendly application disproportionately affects Black and Hispanic workers, who are more likely to rely on mobile devices to access the internet. While 82% of white Americans own a desktop or laptop computer, only 58% of Black Americans and 57% of Hispanic Americans do. Similarly, only 12% of white Americans have internet access through a smartphone only, while 23% of Black Americans and 25% of Hispanic Americans rely exclusively on smartphones for internet access.
The bill text is available here.
Under the bill, states receiving funding would need to meet the following requirements:
- Ensure that the process of filing initial and continuing claims for unemployment compensation can be readily understood and accomplished by the vast majority of claimants, including individuals with limited English proficiency, disabled individuals, older individuals, and individuals with literacy challenges.
- Develop an online-filing system that’s available in any language spoken by more than 1% of the state’s population. Translations must be completed by human translators rather than translation software.
- Develop an online filing system that’s accessible and optimized for both desktop computers and mobile devices. Any features of the system (such as the ability to upload documentation) that are available in the desktop version of the online claim-filing system must also be available in the mobile version.
- Allow for electronic submission of documentation required to support a claim.
- Develop an online filing system that’s available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and has an automated password reset function that can be completed online.
- States must also allow claims to be filed either by phone or in person, in addition to an online filing system.