Computerized Unemployment Insurance System Creates Hassles for the Unemployed

BOSTON, Mass.—When the Commonwealth’s $46-million computerized unemployment insurance system launched in July 2013, officials declared it an instant success. However, emails that the Boston Globe recently obtained demonstrate systemic flaws and high levels of user frustration with the new Massachusetts Unemployment Insurance (UI) online system.

In the emails, which the Globe obtained through a federal Freedom of Information Act request, agency employees and unemployed workers expressed aggravation and dissatisfaction with the UI online system. UI is a temporary income protection program for workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own but who are able and looking for work.

One person with a brain tumor could not pay for health insurance. Another faced eviction because they could not get benefits. Thousands more experienced late benefit payments, missed hearings, and botched mailings as a result of the new system.

Unemployed workers received letters stating they owed hundreds of thousands of dollars, while another email from a top labor official explained that the system had incorrectly paid out $800,000 in benefits.

The New York-based company Deloitte Consulting designed and built the system. The company met with a State Senate panel in February to speak about the system’s defects, which by one count surpass 100. The Senate panel faulted both the Commonwealth and Deloitte for the UI system’s technological flaws.

Readers posted in the comment section of the Boston Globe article expressing their anger with the system. User Bendogger, a self-identified business owner, believes it is unusable.

“An employee I let go last August didn’t see a dime for two months despite the fact that I had completed everything necessary for him to collect within a week of letting him go.”

Another user claimed they had experience with both the old and current programs. This user found the system asked “illogical questions, [gave] answers that are double negatives and [had] horrible processing.”

Department of Unemployment Assistance (DUA) Director Michelle Amante released a statement highlighting the successes the new system has had over the past year since its release.

“Our call wait times are now averaging 15 minutes, down from the 51 minute peak recorded in August 2013,” Amante noted. “The average amount of time to process a claimant’s first is 14 days, down three weeks from 37 days prior to the launch of UI Online.”

Initially, navigating and understanding the website was one of the many problems with the system. Users chose to register over the phone rather than on the Internet. According to Amante, now more claimants are hanging up the phone and going online.

“Following launch, over 60% of claimants used our TeleCert phone system while 40% used the web to certify,” Amante said. “Today, the statistics are reversed. 60% file with UI Online compared to 40% who file by phone.”According to Ann Dufresne, the Communications Director at the Department of Labor and Workforce Development (which oversees the DUA), the department is listening to feedback and working on ways to improve the system.

“DUA recently sent out emails to claimants and employers to let them know how we have responded to their feedback over the last year and set ambitious goals to improve their experience,” Dufresne noted in an email to SPARE CHANGE NEWS. “This communication included an appeal for their ideas on how we can improve UI Online or what DUA could do better.”

The DUA has been focusing on email feedback to check in with users.

“Nearly 350 responses [have been] positive feedback or proposed suggestions,” Dufresne said. “Additionally, 143 had negative generic comments that we will further respond to see if they have more specific issues that we can review.”

The current unemployment rate in Massachusetts is 5.8%, compared to last year’s rate of 7.20%.

“It’s been over a year since UI Online was launched and we are moving forward,” Dufresne said.

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