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Local News

Pa. Says It Will Extend Popular Program for Job-Seekers

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by John L. Micek, Pennsylvania Capital-Star
March 17, 2023

Pennsylvania will extend a popular program for job-seekers that allowed some unemployment claimants to meet in-person with state workers for one-on-one attention.

First launched last May, the system, dubbed UC Connect, has served some 34,000 claimants at 58 locations across the state, the administration said in a statement. It was funded through a grant from the U.S. Labor Department.

The program, which served workers with limited English proficiency, or those who could not, for whatever reason, apply for benefits online, proved so popular that the state Department of Labor & Industry, which has oversight of unemployment issues, decided to operate it indefinitely.

“We are choosing to continue this program not only because claimants and advocates have told us many times that they love the in-person interaction offered through UC Connect, but also because it has empowered L&I staff to engage on a deeper level with our constituents,” acting Labor & Industry Secretary Nancy Walker said in the agency’s statement.

The program’s success is a bright spot for the agency, which was the target for scathing criticism for its glacial processing of jobless claims at the height of the COVID-19 pandemic two years ago.

In its statement Thursday, the Democratic administration, which has made workforce development and the streamlining of state government a hallmark of its brief tenure, said it “is committed to enhancing the [unemployment compensation] system’s functionality to process claims in a timely manner, optimize customer service at all levels, and bolster the system’s resilience during times of low or high unemployment.

“To this end, the department is implementing a comprehensive strategy to augment the overall UC workforce and prioritize technical updates to the system. These measures will enable L&I to simultaneously resolve the pandemic backlog of claims while building a more efficient and effective system,” the administration said.

Then-state Rep. Summer Lee, D-Allegheny speaking at an unemployment compensation benefits rally (Photo via Commonwealth of Pennsylvania/City & State Pa.).

So far, the move has been met with approval by labor leaders and workers’ advocates.

“Keeping this program going will continue to provide improved access to UC services and help streamline complex claims and questions, making the process less daunting for Pennsylvanians,” Steve Catanese, president of SEIU Local 668 said, adding that the union is looking forward to working with the administration on further improvements to the system.

Julia Simon-Mishel, a supervising attorney at Philadelphia Legal Assistance, said that job-seekers “often need human contact to make the system workable.

“Unemployment is a complex system, and many claimants struggle to understand their place in it or how to use new UC technology to file claims and appeals,” Simon-Mishel said.

To schedule an appointment, claimants should contact a PA CareerLink center directly. More information about UC Connect is available on L&I’s website.

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Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor John Micek for questions: info@penncapital-star.com. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.