Many of the limitations of unemployment insurance systems existed before the pandemic hit; the difference is that before the pandemic, unemployment claims were predictable enough that agencies could appropriately staff up to account for the constraints. When COVID-19 began to spread and businesses started en masse reducing work hours, conducting layoffs, or closing all together, unforeseen and unprecedented numbers of people were filing for unemployment insurance benefits. Because the UI systems are set up to scale with the hiring and firing of individuals, many states are still months behind in processing claims.
The human toll of these backlogs is real. Without the UI benefits delivered in a timely manner, many more people have had to make impossible financial decisions: food or rent? Utilities bill or medicine?
The Unemployment Insurance Modernization team at USDR is working to understand the constraints under which UI systems operate and, by partnering with those agencies, evaluate, plan, and/or implement solutions to help them become more effective.