Pennsylvania’s UC Connect Program: A Bright Spot in Unemployment Compensation

Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry

HARRISBURG, PA — In dealing with unemployment compensation issues, the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania has become a shining beacon of success, particularly through the efforts of the Shapiro Administration and the UC Connect program. Launched two years ago, this initiative has provided in-person customer service to more than 75,000 Pennsylvanians, markedly improving access to unemployment benefits.

The UC Connect program is a direct result of bipartisan cooperation and financial support embedded in the 2023-24 budget. This funding bolstered staff levels in the Department of Labor & Industry (L&I), enabling them to aid unemployment compensation claimants, particularly those struggling with technology or language barriers.

The program spans the entire state, offering Pennsylvanians access to the Unemployment Compensation program, a crucial safety net for those who have found themselves jobless for reasons beyond their control. The program particularly aids those without proper technology, technical skills, or even internet access, as well as individuals for whom English is not their first language.

The UC Connect program defied initial expectations, demonstrating the immense societal value of traditional customer service models. The program’s success is clear evidence of the government as a positive and active force in people’s lives, especially in times of hardship.

Governor Josh Shapiro and Secretary Nancy A. Walker deserve plaudits for their leadership in utilizing a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to establish and continue UC Connect. Their efforts resulted in legislative support for permanent staffing for the program.

Governor Shapiro has shown unwavering commitment to overhauling the unemployment compensation system since his inauguration, focusing initially on clearing a pandemic-induced backlog of 40,000 unresolved claims. This backlog was cleared within seven months under Secretary Walker’s guidance, a demonstrable testament to their resolve.

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Moreover, the implementation of the Service Improvement and Infrastructure Fund (SIIF) in the 2023-24 budget allowed L&I to hire an additional 380 UC interviewers. These recruits drastically reduced wait times for phone assistance, revitalizing the customer service experience for Pennsylvanians dealing with unemployment compensation.

In 2023, L&I managed to distribute over $1.7 billion in unemployment benefits to about 326,000 Pennsylvanians who lost jobs or had their work hours reduced through no fault of theirs.

In April 2024 alone, L&I processed over 41,000 claims, with unemployment benefits totaling over $180 million distributed to more than 100,000 eligible claimants. In the same vein, nearly 97,000 individuals were served via the UC helpline, over 4,000 interacted with the UC Live Chat service, and more than 15,000 were assisted through email. UC staff have impressively managed to respond to most emails within 24 hours.

For businesses and employees facing potential job losses due to a variety of challenges, the Department also provides Rapid Response Services. These services, provided at no cost, can assist with planned layoffs, closures, natural disasters, and other sudden economic transitions.

Through the UC Connect program and other similar initiatives, Pennsylvania has taken significant strides in managing unemployment compensation, setting an example for other states to follow. The success of these programs signals a brighter future for all Pennsylvanians, proving that the state is well-equipped to handle a crisis and meet the needs of its citizens.

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