Report: PA’s Next Governor Must Fix the State’s Broken Unemployment System to Protect Workers and Economy


For Immediate Release

November 29, 2022

Contact: Kirstin Snow, Communications Director, Pennsylvania Budget and Policy Center,


Report: Pa’s next governor must fix the state’s broken unemployment system to protect workers and economy

Pittsburgh/Philadelphia – A new report released today at simultaneous press conferences in both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia highlighted the myriad, continuing problems of Pennsylvania’s unemployment system and called on Governor-elect Shapiro to fix the ongoing issues and restore workers’ confidence in the system upon taking office. VIDEO LINK HERE; REPORT LINK HERE.

The report highlights that problematic technology and staffing cuts under previous administrations led to the fragile system crumbling during the pandemic. While the state managed to pay out $50 billion in benefits during that time, it did so only with great delays and problems that caused additional pain to workers. Today, the volume of unemployment claims has returned to pre-pandemic levels, but issues with timely payments and appeals continue to plague the Commonwealth.

The report states that last month:

  • PA made only 32 percent of first UI benefit payments within 15 days, ranking 49th out of 50 states.
  • PA made 56 percent of payments within 70 days, ranking 48th—nearly half of unemployed workers wait more than 10 weeks before receiving their first payment.
  • PA ranked 44th for the average age of first appeals—244 days, about twice the US average of 127.

Adding insult to injury, thousands of unemployed workers have been hounded to pay back what the PA Department of Labor and Industry claims are benefit “overpayments,” receiving notices that threaten to take their IRS tax refund, put liens on their property, or to pursue criminal prosecution even though in many cases they are not legally obligated to, because they committed no fraud.

“Unemployment insurance is vital to PA’s workers and economy. It keeps food on the table and a roof over families’ heads when workers lose jobs. It sustains buying power so that our economy doesn’t spiral down. With an already unstable economy, Pennsylvania must be able to rely on its unemployment system,” said Stephen Herzenberg, Executive Director of the Keystone Research Center and one of the authors of the report.

Barney Oursler, the director of the Mon Valley Unemployed Committee and a lifelong advocate for the unemployed said, “For the last three years we’ve had to help countless people fight to get the benefits they are owed, and we continue to do so every day. The problems with unemployment insurance can no longer be blamed on the pandemic. The system has failed and it needs to be rebuilt.”

Marc Stier, director of the PA Budget and Policy Center said, “There are two overriding problems with the Unemployment Insurance system: First, because of technology issues and understaffing, too many people wait too long to receive the benefits they are owed, and for which they have paid with their taxes. Second, too many of the unemployed don’t receive any benefits and the benefits for those that do are too low.”

Representative Sara Innamorato added, “My office was flooded with calls from unemployed workers during the pandemic because they couldn’t get the help they needed from the unemployment system. As state lawmakers, we have an opportunity to right the wrongs of the past through legislative action. With this report we have a path to restore workers’ confidence in the unemployment system and build a safety net that provides timely, transparent, and humane service to workers.”

Representative Joe Hohenstein added, “People are waiting for eight months. They may have a landlord who needs that rent check, utility companies who may be shutting off water and electricity, and kids who cannot wait, who need to be fed and have clothes on their backs. We cannot be telling people they have to wait any longer.”


John Dodds, director, Philadelphia Unemployment Project: “The unemployment system has been a disaster for laid-off workers for the past 2 1/2 years. People universally have not been able to reach anyone on the phone to try to get help with their problems. Hundreds of thousands have waited for months to have their eligibility determined. Large numbers cannot even open claims due to difficulty dealing with the computer system and the inability to talk to anyone to help with a claim. And it has not gotten better despite the lowering unemployment numbers in the state and nation.”
Claimant Jermaine Heath: ” I was just told I need to wait for someone to get back to me. Here it is the beginning of December and I filed a claim in the beginning of October. You have a landlord calling you for rent, a car note and four boys I need to take care of. It becomes a crunch. The system needs to be fixed and fixed quickly” –Jermaine Heath, Unemployment beneficiary VIDEO (Phila)