President Biden’s Labor Secretary nominee – Boston mayor Marty Walsh – emphasized that state unemployment insurance systems are in sore need of technology upgrades during testimony at a Feb. 4 confirmation hearing before the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions.

The failure of IT systems in many states to keep up with increased demand for services during the coronavirus pandemic has been a persistent problem for the past 11 months, and one that Doug Robinson, executive director at the National Association of State Chief Information Officers, addressed in recent interview with MeriTalk.

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“The unemployment system needs to be brought into the 21st century as far as technology,” Walsh told senators at his confirmation hearing. “We also have to make it easier for workers that are unemployed to access unemployment benefits and easier for workers that are unemployed when they go back to work to be able to let the states know that they’re back to work.”

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said her state experienced widespread unemployment compensation fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the surge of unemployment claims. At the height of the pandemic last spring, Collins said the state of Maine had to cancel “more than 100,000 initial claims and weekly certifications that were determined to be fraudulent.”

“What we saw were these criminal enterprises ruthlessly exploiting gaps in systems and states all over the country,” Collins said. “Part of the problem is we have these legacy systems that simply cannot handle increased volumes that are slow to adjust for changing results and that cannot easily catch fraud.”

Walsh agreed that the legacy systems need upgrading and called it “a necessary step,” saying many of the systems states are working on “are antiquated.”

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Grace Dille
Grace Dille
Grace Dille is a MeriTalk Staff Reporter covering the intersection of government and technology.
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