A Playbook for Improving Unemployment Insurance Delivery

North Star

North Star

As the economy changes, unemployment benefits need to reflect the shifting needs of the workforce. This is especially critical during local and national disasters that displace large amounts of workers with little warning.

We recommend adopting the following goals to ensure that unemployment benefits are able to respond to change and remain accessible to those who need them, when they need them:

  • Same-day benefits payments provided to claimants using the payment mechanism (e.g., direct deposit, prepaid card, Venmo) that works best for them. Same-day benefits decisions are enabled by real-time access to identity and wage information, with success benchmarks that measure and prioritize equitable access to same-day benefits. States adopt tools that defend against criminal activity effectively without preventing real claimants from accessing benefits.
  • Tracking meaningful outcomes using metrics that center the claimant: timely payments, meaningful employment, and first contact resolution — not hours of training delivered or calls answered.
  • A clear, easy-to-use application process that uses plain language to help claimants understand whether they are eligible, how to apply, and what to expect next, accessible across the devices and in languages they use every day.
  • Benefits that protect workers who aren’t eligible for traditional “unemployment insurance” — including tipped, gig, freelance, or remote workers — in times of emergency, like a pandemic. The government needs to stand ready to deliver these benefits in the next disaster, rather than haphazardly tacking them onto existing systems in the midst of a crisis.
  • A scalable claims processing system that can meet demand in times of high unemployment without requiring constant pandemic-level staffing. This means leveraging elastic services for tasks like mail processing and identity verification; workload management systems that allow leaders to confidently hire and reallocate staff without reducing the capacity of their most specialized workers; and a consistent national framework for the policies and procedures that can and can’t be waived under specific circumstances.
  • Transparent, real-time reporting about equitable claimant access, agency workloads, and obstacles between state workforce agencies, U.S. DOL, Congress, and the public.
  • A collaborative relationship between U.S. DOL and states to improve the experience of both claimants and employees. New program letters would be co-authored with states, with practical implementation guidance developed through demonstration projects in states first. These new experiences must be co-designed well, in service of claimant-centric metrics, from the start.

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Supported by

The Families & Workers Fund