A Playbook for Improving Unemployment Insurance Delivery

Claimant Experience

Claimant Experience

Application Experience

When it’s easy for people to apply for unemployment with the right information, it’s easier — and faster — to process their claims. Improving the experience of applying for unemployment is a low-cost, high yield strategy that many states have used to:

  • Increase claim processing speed
  • Decrease the need for customer service
  • Increase claimant satisfaction

Here are some of the key things to keep in mind when you update your state’s application process.

Make sure people can find your unemployment website.

Optimize search results to lead claimants to the state unemployment website. In Michigan, the team heard early in their research1 that the first thing claimants do when they’re laid off is Google search ‘Michigan Unemployment.’ To help ensure that claimants find accurate information quickly, optimize search results to lead claimants to the state unemployment website. This should also eliminate some of the misinformation that is currently spread through unverified online sources.

For tips on how to make sure your content is findable, check out this article on SEO from digital.gov.

Design for the people who are hardest to reach.2

“Designing for the 10%. An important principle we consider is to design policy for the 10% of the population that is hardest to reach. We believe that by designing for those who are hardest to serve and most in need, the policy will work better for everyone. This means approaching policy design with an equity lense from the outset.“3 — New America Foundation

If you start by addressing the needs of the people you have the hardest time reaching, you’ll be able to develop a process that works for everyone. The UI application process in most states has been cobbled together over years, rather than designed from start to finish. These processes are artifacts of decades of changes, merges, and updates.

Tip

To help your team design a new UI application process create a service design blueprint.

Provide clear guidance during the application process.

Well-designed benefits prepare and guide people through a complex process. Provide examples to help guide an applicant’s understanding of a question. UI applications often ask claimants to find specific numbers like an EAN or FEIN. These numbers can be found on a W2 or tax documents, but that isn’t indicated on the application and claimants often end up confused about how to find them.

The application itself may need to be restructured, following best practices from commonly-used complex forms like healthcare.gov.

Recent efforts in several states suggest some promising improvements to the application process.

Unemployment landing page

Redesign the unemployment landing page to draw attention to the most important information for each user group. The Michigan landing page was redesigned during the pandemic and the team heard it made a significant difference in improving the overall experience for claimants and employers.4

Civilla and the New America Foundation made the following recommendations for the Michigan unemployment program based on research with claimants. We’re using them here with permission, so that other states can benefit from the guidance.

Simplified application

Simplified application with help text

Simplify the language on the unemployment application and add help text to answer claimant questions while they are filing.
Today, a lot of common questions are answered in UIA’s FAQs rather than through “just in time” guidance when claimants need it most. A simplified application with help text would significantly improve the claimant experience, decrease call volume, and help mitigate errors. Additionally, UIA should integrate the application for PUA (or similar programs) with the UI application. This way, claimants would not need to get denied from UI and then re-apply to PUA.5

Confirmation page

Confirmation page

Design a confirmation page that shares clear next steps with claimants, including how to upload documents to verify their identity.
Many claimants assume that once they submit their claim, the rest is up to UIA. But this is not the case. A confirmation page would help claimants follow through on documentation requirements and speed up processing for UIA staff.6

Letter

Monetary determination letter

Redesign the Monetary Determination letter and File Protest form.
If approved or denied, claimants should receive a redesigned Monetary Determination letter, with simple language and clear next steps. The letter should be packaged with a redesigned File Protest form that explains the steps claimants can take to protest the decision or the benefit amount. Currently, these forms are difficult for claimants to understand and generate a high volume of calls for the agency.7

Text message

Reminder text messages

Implement text messages to remind claimants of the actions they need to take and direct them to the MiWAM portal for case updates.
Text message reminders would help claimants complete benefit requirements and recertify every two weeks once they’re approved.8

Extended letter

Benefits exhausted/extended letter

Redesign the Benefits Exhausted/Extended letter.
When a claimants’ benefits are exhausted or extended, they should receive a redesigned letter in the mail that notifies them of their exhausted benefits and provides clear next steps. P12

UIA-1711

Redesign the UIA-1711 to help claimants understand how to file a claim and prepare them for the process to come.
The UIA-1711 is a document that employers should give to employees when they are laid off. It includes the business EAN and FEIN numbers, as well as ‘reason for separation,’ which are required in order to file a claim. Currently, many businesses do not use this form and it’s poorly designed. Redesigning the UIA-1711 would help claimants understand how to file a claim and prepare them for the process to come.9 (While this form is specific to Michigan, the concept could be applied elsewhere.)

Document upload

California and Vermont added document upload functions10 during the pandemic so claimants didn’t have to mail in associated documents. New Jersey’s existing use of Salesforce enabled them to expand what documents they could collect and what answers they could receive through the Salesforce uploads.

Ideally, the upload capability allows users to take a photo of a document from a mobile phone.

Benefits wizards

New Jersey developed an unemployment benefit wizard11 to help people familiarize themselves with the process and eligibility criteria ahead of time. This benefit wizard helps people understand what unemployment programs they might be be eligible for, but also helps them navigate all New Jersey benefits, such as paid family and medical leave and paid sick days, that all form part of the “safety net” during the pandemic. It was developed with technical expertise from USDR and the NJ Office of Innovation.

Conduct regular usability testing with members of the public.

Usability testing should be an ongoing process in every state,12 and always done with enough time before a release to incorporate changes based on participant feedback.

A few words of guidance for usability testing:13

  • Current employees and claims processors aren’t proxies for real users, because they know too much about how the system works.
  • Test the complete, end to end experience with a variety of possible claimants.14,15
  • Make sure to include participants who represent historically underserved groups, including participants with disabilities.
  • Use a staging environment that mirrors production to enable robust, end to end usability testing without having to use production data or resources.

Encourage employees to explore the system, too.

State and federal U.S. DOL employees — including the governor — are always encouraged to try out the end-to-end process of filing for unemployment. While they don’t represent average users, it’s important for them to understand what claimants experience.

Provide more than one way to apply.

Every state must have an easy-to-use digital interface for applying for unemployment. While not everyone can use digital, if everyone is forced to call in and speak to a human to finish filing their claim, the people with limited or no digital access will have almost no chance of successfully getting through and filing. An effective digital experience frees up staff to help those without digital access (or with complex cases).

Some states, like Wisconsin, Florida,16 and New York, have eliminated paper applications, requiring either digital or phone applications. A demonstration project around an optimized applicant experience should study application methods and determine whether a high-functioning, file-by-phone interface can replace paper.

Communicate, communicate, communicate.

The Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP) recommends “expanding the depth and breadth of communication by a factor of 10,”17 citing that agencies regularly underestimate the amount of information and communication that claimants need. Proactive, accurate communication can stave off stress on behalf of the applicant, errors, and even unnecessary follow-up phone calls.18

For example, make sure your site autosaves applications during the process and warns users when a session will end.

Claim Status

To reduce contact center volume and increase claimant satisfaction, make it easier for claimants to track their own claim status. Many states, such as North Carolina and Oklahoma, have successfully improved these metrics by creating new and improved ways for claimants to check their claim status and receive proactive claim status updates.

There are some basic requirements for a successful claim status tracker.

These include:

  • Self-service (via the Web, mobile, chat, and phone)
  • Plain language explanations of claim status and what to expect next
  • Clear action steps for claimants when they need to take action
  • Proactive “push” updates (by email or SMS)

“Online portals should give claimants a clear picture about what their claim status is—not just for their peace of mind, but also to relieve pressure on phone lines.”19 - NELP

“In a recent discovery sprint on UI claim status, Nava’s user research concluded that communicating with claimants every step of the way would decrease anxiety and reduce load on call center staff.”20 - Nava Public Benefit Corporation

Here are a few success stories from states that provide clear information about claim status.

  • California sends SMS updates to claimants as their claim moves through the system, when their first payment processes, and when action is needed by the claimant, such as to recertify for benefits.
  • Rhode Island invested significant time in the user experience of its claims tracker — colloquially referred to as “the Dominos pizza tracker” — to help ease the load on the mainframe and the contact center from claimants trying to understand more about their status. The underlying technology for its claims tracker also enabled self-service recertifications.
  • In North Carolina, more than 30% of calls related to claim status. In roughly 3 weeks, they built one source of truth for a claim status that could be accessed over the Web, via chatbot, or phone (via IVR system). If a claimant calls in and the IVR gives them a claim status that requires action on their part, they are automatically promoted to the front of the call agent line to complete the outstanding task without having to wait on hold. From the end of May to September, 2020, claimants used the automated phone claim status service 650,000 times, with fewer than 2% of those calls requiring action from a call agent.

You don’t have to overhaul your whole system in order to provide better updates.

“Agencies should iterate toward a complete status-checking experience — they shouldn’t try to do it all at once. E.g., it’s impactful to show someone their initial application status even if you can’t yet show weekly certification status or vice versa, or to show that a weekly certification was deemed eligible even if you can’t yet show how much/whether they have been paid.”21 - USDR

Multiple states successfully used the strangler pattern to launch claim status trackers in weeks alongside (not within) the mainframe. Claim status updates don’t have to be real-time; syncing status once a day (with clear messaging about when the update happens, so claimants don’t refresh the page in frustration all day) with the mainframe can be plenty adequate.

Recertification

In order to continue receiving unemployment benefits, claimants need to “recertify” that they’re still eligible for benefits. Recertification is the process for claimants to notify the unemployment office that they:

  • Are able to work
  • Looking for work
  • Have not yet secured new employment

Claimants have to answer questions about each individual week on either a weekly or biweekly basis, depending on the state.

“Determining whether an individual is not entitled to any other UC for a week requires states to confirm whether the individual has met the requirements to receive UC for that week.”22 — U.S. Department of Labor

States need to provide more than one way to recertify.

Just as people should be able to file for their initial unemployment claim via their mobile phone, they should also be able to recertify via mobile. Some states have mobile responsive websites for recertifying, and some have created a capability for recertifying via text message.

“A tool that makes this process as easy as possible is critical to minimizing the administrative burden on recipients and keeping people enrolled in benefits.”23 — Nava Public Benefit Corporation

At a minimum, claimants should be able to recertify by:

Old technology isn’t a barrier to providing automated recertification.

Whatever your current technology is, the National WIC Association found24 that existing technologies, however old, are not a barrier to developing automated recertification methods. Many states have used the strangler pattern to quickly build new recertification tools for claimants that sync to the back-end system at a regular cadence.

For example, Rhode Island’s recertification process was initially connected directly to its back-end As/400 system, so only 74 people at a time could use it. However, up to 200,000 Rhode Islanders could be recertifying at any given time. Within 10 days, they were able to work with Amazon Web Services Connect to build a scalable automated recertification system. As an added bonus, this new system gave them data insights into the times and volumes that people were recertifying.

Make sure that claimants can understand the questions you ask.

USDR research found that many claimants were confused by the questions on the recertification form.25 Additionally, in support of a more claimant-friendly, plain language process, many people we spoke with suggested renaming “recertification” to a simpler term.

We encourage states to prioritize using clear, plain language for all communications..

Send reminders to recertify.

When a claimant doesn’t recertify in a given week, it may be because they’ve returned to work, they don’t know that they have to, or that they simply forgot. Forgetting is complicated by the fact that some states have narrow windows of time in which to recertify in a given week.

States can make recertifying much simpler by simply sending reminders, preferably in a format chosen by the claimant (such as email or SMS). Louisiana is one state that sends text message reminders.

Ensuring Access

In addition to removing universal barriers to enrollment, we need focused efforts to remove barriers that disproportionately affect specific groups. While we have tried to include an equity lens in every section of this report, here we want to touch on a few specific improvements states can make to let in more eligible applicants.

Stop rejecting real people based on their real name.

Most unemployment benefit applications reject people based on their real name, preventing them from moving forward.

We compiled a list of real names that can’t make it through many applications. We encourage every unemployment director to work through this list with their teams to ensure that all of these real individuals can apply for benefits. (This list would apply to any benefit application, not just unemployment.)

Rhode Island is addressing this issue by collecting the claimant’s real name in the application and transforming it silently into a second field in the background to store in its aging As/400 system. It uses the original name whenever possible, and only uses the transformed name in the background where required due to legacy system constraints.

Revisit how you’re blocking foreign IP addresses.

Many states we spoke with reported blocking claimants from all foreign IP addresses except for Canada. When prompted to explain why they didn’t also allow claims from Mexico, they didn’t have answers. Either block both, or unblock both.

Also, make sure you have an escape hatch for claimants who are eligible for UI but who are, for various reasons, currently outside of the United States.

Don’t block claimants just for frequently changing their information.

We learned from experts that many people, in particular gig workers, can change bank accounts on a weekly basis to take advantage of sign-up bonuses available from an increasing number of digital banks. Claimants may also have to move frequently due to housing instability caused by their unemployment, or change phone numbers frequently because their accounts are shut off for non-payment or they can only afford prepaid phones.

Don’t block claimants just for having the same contact information as other people.

Blocking shared addresses, phone numbers, and bank accounts doesn’t consider common, real-world situations like:

  • Multigenerational households
  • Homeless or domestic violence shelters
  • The tendency for mainframe computers to sometimes cut off the apartment number and make 50 different apartments seem like “the same” address for large apartment buildings

Use available data to measure equitable access to benefits.

Many states reported that they weren’t approved to ask demographic questions like race and ethnicity in their unemployment benefit applications, so they couldn’t track outcome measures. Rhode Island found a clever workaround to this by starting its unemployment application with the work search profile, which does have demographic information. This allowed Rhode Island to look for disparities from the very start.

As you identify disparities, you can use an integrated command center model to conduct a root cause analysis and prioritize equitable outcomes.

According to a report by the National Employment Law Project (NELP):

“Dr. William Spriggs pointed out in his recent testimony to the House Oversight and Reform Committee’s Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, the states slowest to set up the IT infrastructure to pay Pandemic Unemployment Assistance were more often states with higher populations of Black workers. He also analyzed access data from the height of the spike in new claims and found that Black workers were far more likely to be unable to apply. Application rates across races were similar, but Black males were half as likely to receive unemployment compensation as white men, and Black women were about a third as likely to actually receive compensation compared to white women. This is unacceptable in a pandemic that is disproportionately costing Black, Latinx, Indigenous, and other workers of color’s lives.”

“UI was established in 1935 on the heels of the Great Depression to help those involuntarily out of work during an economic downturn and to be responsive to mass economic catastrophe in the future. The program was built with white men in mind and excluded a great deal of Black people who were domestic and agricultural workers (as is true of most New Deal programs). The exclusions were geographically targeted to workers in the South and West: Nearly half of all Black men, Mexican American men, and Native American men and women were excluded, plus significant numbers of Asian American workers as well. Significantly, the greatest harm was felt by Black women—9 out of 10 were excluded.

“Although many excluded occupations were added to the program later, the program still does not provide equal access to all workers. However, during the pandemic, this program has been especially important for workers of color. According to the Congressional Budget Office, 47 percent of workers receiving UI in July are workers of color. This includes 16 percent of Black workers, 14 percent of Latinx workers, 10 percent of white workers, and 14 percent of other workers.[3] Given the staggering racial wealth gap, delays in payments have a devastating effect on Black families.[4] But it does not have to be that way. With some conscious efforts to build a system that looks at the challenges that the most underserved face, we can build a system that works for everyone, now and into the future.”26

Please read Unpacking Inequities in Unemployment Insurance for more.

Unpacking Systems of Inequity in UI graphic

Escape Hatches

When you add a block or obstacle to your process to stop fraud, you must have a corresponding escape hatch so that real applicants still have a path forward.

You must also protect the escape hatch from abuse and fraud.

Some examples:
Obstacle: We block foreign IP addresses from accessing our unemployment application.
Who this harms: Claimants who moved outside the country to live with family; seasonal workers; claimants living close to borders.
Escape hatch: Route foreign IPs to a trusted referee.
How to protect this escape hatch: Trusted referee can thwart automated scaled attacks.

Obstacle: We require IAL2/AAL2 identity verification to create an account (before you can access the unemployment application).
Who this harms: Claimants who legitimately cannot pass identity verification for valid reasons, such as an expired license.
Escape hatch: Trusted referee or in-person identity verification. Per REAL ID requirements, a claimant can prove their identity with just their birth certificate in person (but not remotely, given how easily it could be compromised at scale).
How to protect this escape hatch: Trusted referee and in-person identity verification can thwart automated scaled attacks.

Obstacle: We block claims associated with any mailing address associated with a known fraudulent claim.
Who this harms: Claimants living in shelters or unhoused claimants using general delivery; claimants with roommates; claimants in boarding houses.
Escape hatch: Instead of automatically blocking addresses based on volume, review addresses to confirm they are not shelters, apartment buildings, etc. These addresses could be targeted by fraudsters, further harming the real claimants who live there. Route applicants to trusted referee.
How to protect this escape hatch: Trusted referee can thwart automated scaled attacks.

Obstacle: A claimant’s complex employment history results in an exception processing their claim, and it is rejected but may be strictly eligible per the rules (but that are not adequately modeled in the system).
Who this harms: Real claimants with complex employment histories
Escape hatch: This may be accounted for in adjudication and/or appeals workflows, but an escape hatch might also be a quick, prioritized call or chat with someone that can quickly unblock them such that they are not waiting days or more to learn of the resolution.
How to protect this escape hatch: Please suggest more escape hatches!

Plain Language

If your unemployment team is spending most of their time on activities like these, this section is for you:

  • Fielding a high volume of calls from people who are frustrated and confused by the unemployment process
  • Explaining the difference between response options like “hours reduced” and “temporary shut-down”
  • Helping claimants undo application mistakes that have caused delays in their benefits

By creating plain language content, you can improve the user experience for the public and reduce the labor-intensive consequences of a system that’s difficult to navigate.

Some states are already taking steps to improve communication about unemployment insurance.

California

UI claimants who read the plain language Guide to applying for unemployment benefits are 2 to 4 times more likely to successfully submit a claim.27

Michigan

In late 2020, Civilla and New America collaborated to investigate opportunities to improve claimants’ experiences with Michigan’s unemployment system. Here’s one of several examples of terms that confused users that they heard about in their research:

“Why can’t they just say you’re eligible? Why do they need to say you’re ‘determined not ineligible’.” - Claimant28

To summarize their findings, Civilla and New America developed 3 reports that include best practice recommendations. While the details are specific to Michigan, all UI programs could improve claimants’ experiences by following recommendations for clear communication like:29

  • Provide a confirmation page to tell users when they’ve successfully submitted a UI application
  • Tell people what they need to do next at each stage of the process
  • Send text messages to prompt people to take actions like recertifying
  • Put the most important information at the top of every communication — from the application to follow-up letters requesting additional information
  • Use bullets, not paragraphs30

Pennsylvania

USDR built a plain language guide to help claimants understand the confusing process around benefits year.

Several states

Several states have created glossaries to explain UI terms. Here are a few examples:

Washington

New legislation requires the agency to use “plain language, tested on claimants for comprehensibility, in all letters, alerts, and notices.”

Wisconsin

The Department of Workforce Development (DWD) has seized on plain language as a strategy for reducing the UI backlog.31 So far, they’ve updated the UI portal to make it easier to use and started rolling out phases of a plain language initiative.32,33

Recommendation for the federal government

We recommend that DOL create plain language resources to help state unemployment programs better serve the public.

  • Plain language glossary that provides consistent, clear alternatives to current jargon
  • Transadapted versions of the glossary in key languages — transadaptation is different from translation, because it ensures that the original meaning in English is maintained (instead of a word for word translation)
  • A central plain language team that can rapidly develop approved material that goes along with new, timely policy and procedure changes like UIPLs.

In addition to sharing these resources with states, DOL can post them on its plain language page to continue building out this section.

Transadaptation

Using an automated translation service like Google Translate to convert English unemployment content into other languages isn’t adequate. Machine translation provides a word for word replacement. To create multilingual content that people understand, you need transadaptation.

Transadaptation prioritizes creating content that has the same meaning as the original — which is rarely if ever just the equivalent of translating each word into the new language. To provide claimants with unemployment content that’s actionable and understandable in other languages requires skilled, multilingual translators and content creators.

California has successfully used this approach for GetCalFresh, and Oregon has made its unemployment content available in 16 languages and counting.

U.S. DOL’s UIPL 02-16 requires: “Vital documents and/or information must be translated. A document and/or information will be considered vital if it contains instructions or guidance that are critical for obtaining services and/or benefits, or is required by law.”

Recommendation for the federal government

A recommendation for U.S. DOL is to launch a central team of multi-lingual support for transadapting vital unemployment documents and information. This team could generate “Babel notices” which are brief directions in a variety of languages pointing someone to the transadapted resources. This way, clear and well-written unemployment content can be available in a wide variety of languages, without requiring each state to independently resource their own teams.

“Another key consideration is that civil rights laws require that states translate their websites and applications into Spanish and other commonly spoken languages. Right now, an unemployed worker with limited English skills may have no choice but to file an application over the phone with an interpreter. With so many seeking help, workers are stuck on hold for hours when they manage to get past a busy signal. It would be more efficient to translate the online materials and ensure equal access.”34 - NELP

Accessibility

States websites and application processes must be 508/WCAG compliant and fully usable for members of the disability community. Claimant experiences that work for people with varying abilities, including those who need assistive devices or services (like TTY phone support), ultimately work better for everyone.

When standard customer support channels break down, those who need accessible services are hurt most. In California during the pandemic, the TTY customer support line was inundated with calls from claimants who couldn’t get through on the main phone line, rendering it unusable for those who needed it most.35

U.S. DOL’s UIPL 02-1636 requires states to have accessible claimant experiences.

Michigan’s recommended redesign of its unemployment claimant experience focused on accessibility, using large tap targets, large text, and wide buttons for its mobile interface.

Mobile Access

States with instrumentation have found that the majority of claimants are accessing unemployment benefits from mobile devices. Many individuals with limited or no computer access still have mobile smartphones, and need to be able to complete all unemployment-related self-service tasks with it.

“More people have mobile phones than desktop or laptop computers, and public access to computers has vanished in an era of social distancing. Low-wage workers and workers of color are particularly likely to rely on their phones for Internet access. While more than 80 percent of white adults report owning a desktop or laptop, fewer than 60 percent of Black and Latinx adults do. States must also allow workers and employers to email documents or upload them from their phones.”37 — The Century Foundation

Michigan’s proposed mobile-first approach to redesigning its safety net and its mobile unemployment interface designs can serve as a model for the unemployment space. An easy-to-use, plain language, accessible mobile interface benefits everyone on mobile — and everyone on other devices as well. And the more individuals who can and want to use self-service are able to do so successfully, the more that scarce high-touch human interactions can focus on those claimants who can’t or don’t want to use self-service.

When Virginia first launched its mobile interface, it received positive feedback and had 50,000 registered new users within the first 2 days.

“Similarly, unemployment websites and applications must be mobile-responsive. More people have mobile phones than desktop or laptop computers, and public access to computers has vanished in an era of social distancing. Workers in low-paid jobs and workers of color are particularly likely to rely on their phones for Internet access. While more than 80 percent of white adults report owning a desktop or laptop, fewer than 60 percent of Black and Latinx adults do. States must also allow workers and employers to email in or upload documents from their phones. Believe it or not, some states are still asking workers to fax in documents. Whatever options and support materials state agencies provide to apply for unemployment insurance programs need to account for accessibility and language translation. And according to federal law, states need to offer a way other than online filing if there are technology hurdles that would “interfere with a claimant’s access in applying for benefits.”38 — NELP

Every state should have all major unemployment benefit tasks available via at least a mobile interface, and preferably, a mobile app, including:

  • Applying
  • Checking claim status
  • Recertifying
  • Identity verification

Cross-Benefits

Unemployment benefit interfaces should also educate claimants about other benefits they may be eligible for, and where possible, simplify the process for applying for them.

Michigan asked claimants about the appeal of cross-benefits.

The following content is from a report by Civilla and the New America Foundation and used with permission:39

Claimants are open to and in need of additional information about what benefits they are eligible for.[^69]

When posed with prototype messaging about MDHHS benefits, claimants were encouraged to apply. One claimant described, “If UI said, ‘Hey, your unemployment benefits haven’t kicked in yet. Here’s a link to additional benefits so that you can feed your family…it would be really nice.’”

“Claimants experience a “ping pong” effect — they apply and are often approved for MDHHS benefits but are kicked off as soon as UI kicks in.”

“Food benefits are essential, but strict eligibility means most claimants will be kicked off of the program when they start to receive UI.”

There are two key moments when it would be helpful to remind UI claimants to apply for MDHHS benefits:

  • The first moment is when claimants are waiting for their UI benefits to kick in.
  • The second is when their UI benefits are closing.

California provided UI applicants with information about food assistance.

When California merely added a link to apply for SNAP benefits from the unemployment portal, California experienced a historically-high single day of SNAP applications.

California also worked across agencies to provide clear guidance to SNAP eligibility staff to understand which values on documents verifying UI income (e.g. screenshots from the online UI portal) to use in their own eligibility rules. This was to reduce confusion among SNAP staff who were less familiar with the complex program details of UI income support.

Make sure there’s “No Wrong Door”40 for people who need benefits.

“Rhode Island, South Carolina, and some counties in North Carolina each established a goal of integrating the intake process for customers seeking assistance through multiple programs—a concept referred to as “no wrong door”—and ultimately having “universal workers” who can process applications and other transactions for multiple programs.”41 — The Urban Institute

Given high risk of eviction during the pandemic, Arizona rerouted its rental assistance program through social services, so that someone who was eligible for SNAP was also notified of eligibility for rental assistance. In Philadelphia, the government ran rental assistance through an adjacent nonprofit to maximize cross-benefit delivery opportunities.

Password Resets

Password or PIN resets were cited as reasons for high call volume in states where individuals couldn’t reset them on their own. In Massachusetts alone, some 40% of call volume was PIN resets. North Carolina successfully provided self-service PIN resets during the pandemic to prevent claimants from having to wait to get through to a human on the phone to do it.

We recommend that every state provide instant password/PIN reset self-service. This service should follow best practices so that a malicious bot cannot intentionally try and fail to reset every user’s password, thus locking all users out of the system.

“As is true for other government IT systems, states should update their password reset protocols. In some states, workers must be mailed a new password; in others, staff cannot process claims because they are busy answering phone calls about password resets. Technology exists for states to implement secure password reset protocols that do not require action by the agency, which saves time for everyone.”42 — The National Employment Law Project (NELP)

Reason for Separation

In Michigan, a top complaint among unemployment applicants was confusing separation reasons. Many of the reasons listed are similar to each other and end up confusing claimants. Claimants must differentiate between ‘hours reduced’ and ‘temporary shutdown’, ‘fired’ and ‘laid off’, etc.

For example, one gentleman declined to take an extra shift at work, and his boss told him not to come back. From his perspective, he was fired. From his boss’s perspective, he quit. Which is correct?

Recommendations for the federal government

Developing a single, easy-to-understand list of separation reasons would be an ideal demonstration project. User researchers and plain language content creators could work together with U.S. DOL and at least one state to develop a new taxonomy for separation (perhaps with an associated glossary), mapped clearly to policy. Then all states could adopt it after U.S. DOL approves it.

From a policy perspective, there’s also an open window for increased consistency. NELP recommends that “[g]ood cause to quit should be uniform across states, so workers fleeing domestic violence, following a spouse whose job has moved, or whose work jeopardizes their health and safety should be able to resign and receive UI.”


Go to the next section: Payments


Notes

  1. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nBPDEa8l8RSrKgm2o8cx6RO7xYkEN7nyp1yVfGg6OXk/edit?ts=6061ef4a Page 11 

  2. “executive departments and agencies (agencies) must recognize and work to redress inequities in their policies and programs that serve as barriers to equal opportunity.” - EO Definition of equity in EO: “(a) The term “equity” means the consistent and systematic fair, just, and impartial treatment of all individuals, including individuals who belong to underserved communities that have been denied such treatment, such as Black, Latino, and Indigenous and Native American persons, Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders and other persons of color; members of religious minorities; lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) persons; persons with disabilities; persons who live in rural areas; and persons otherwise adversely affected by persistent poverty or inequality.” 

  3. https://www.newamerica.org/new-practice-lab/racial-equity-framework/blog/the-new-practice-labs-racial-equity-framework/ 

  4. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nBPDEa8l8RSrKgm2o8cx6RO7xYkEN7nyp1yVfGg6OXk/edit?ts=6061ef4a p11 

  5. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nBPDEa8l8RSrKgm2o8cx6RO7xYkEN7nyp1yVfGg6OXk/edit?ts=6061ef4a p12 

  6. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nBPDEa8l8RSrKgm2o8cx6RO7xYkEN7nyp1yVfGg6OXk/edit?ts=6061ef4a p12 

  7. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nBPDEa8l8RSrKgm2o8cx6RO7xYkEN7nyp1yVfGg6OXk/edit?ts=6061ef4a p12 

  8. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nBPDEa8l8RSrKgm2o8cx6RO7xYkEN7nyp1yVfGg6OXk/edit?ts=6061ef4a p12 

  9. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nBPDEa8l8RSrKgm2o8cx6RO7xYkEN7nyp1yVfGg6OXk/edit?ts=6061ef4a 

  10. https://adhoc.team/2021/06/11/transforming-unemployment-insurance-systems/ 

  11. https://adhoc.team/2021/06/11/transforming-unemployment-insurance-systems/ 

  12. Working with real users: “With the additional funding should come strong federal oversight and enforcement, including tangible requirements that the modernization process include input from stakeholders (including workers and their advocates) from beginning to end, and comprehensive user testing that ensures participation from Black people who are faced with the most barriers, and all communities of color; those on the other side of the digital divide; people with limited English proficiency; and people with disabilities.” (https://www.nelp.org/publication/from-disrepair-to-transformation-how-to-revive-unemployment-insurance-information-technology-infrastructure/

  13. One resource guide: https://www.nngroup.com/articles/usability-testing-101/ 

  14. https://usdr.gitbook.io/unemployment-insurance-modernization/identity-proofing-vendor-comparison/race-and-inequity-in-identity-proofing-methods/recommendation-2-increase-accountability-for-ensuring-rightful-claimants-make-it-through-the-system 

  15. “The single strongest recommendation in this report is for states to place their customers at the center of a modernization project, from start to finish. The biggest mistake states made was failing to involve their customers—workers and employers—at critical junctures in the modernization process. This led to systems touted as convenient and accessible, but which claimants often found challenging and unintuitive. Customer-centered design and user experience (UX) testing are widely accepted best practices in the private sector, and should be a core part of any UI modernization effort.” https://tcf.org/content/report/centering-workers-how-to-modernize-unemployment-insurance-technology/ 

  16. Florida’s adoption of a mandatory online claim-filing system and virtual elimination of filing by telephone, long the primary method of filing, disenfranchised thousands of UI claimants who could not successfully navigate the complex and unwieldy online application. NELP 

  17. “Expand the depth and breadth of communication by a factor of 10. People leading change often underestimate how much communication is needed. This is especially true in public sector agencies, where managers and caseworks are overwhelmed. Just because state leaders are communicating well doesn’t mean the target audience is hearing the message” p 17 

  18. “Communication vacuums are likely filled with misinformation. For state officials with limited resources and high demands on their time, skipping over communication to do “the real work” of implementing new federal mandates, responding to high customer volume, or managing the new crisis each day (the “real work”), is understandable and even expected. Leaders may only be prompted to prioritize communication when a crisis makes doing so absolutely necessary. But lack of communication and guidance can cause staff to act on their assumptions or not act at all, which will exacerbate or create issues. States learned that misinformation and frustration from lack of guidance are difficult to correct and turn around. “ p 17 

  19. https://www.nelp.org/publication/from-disrepair-to-transformation-how-to-revive-unemployment-insurance-information-technology-infrastructure/ 

  20. https://blog.navapbc.com/to-reimagine-unemployment-insurance-services-start-small-8c93eb4f1eea 

  21. https://usdr.gitbook.io/unemployment-insurance-modernization/ui-journey-map/the-claimant-journey/know-my-claim-status 

  22. https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_23-20.pdf 

  23. https://blog.navapbc.com/to-reimagine-unemployment-insurance-services-start-small-8c93eb4f1eea 

  24. https://s3.amazonaws.com/aws.upl/nwica.org/wic-technology-landscape-_-final-report-design.pdf Section 5.3 

  25. https://usdr.gitbook.io/unemployment-insurance-modernization/ui-journey-map/the-claimant-journey/certify-weekly 

  26. https://www.nelp.org/publication/from-disrepair-to-transformation-how-to-revive-unemployment-insurance-information-technology-infrastructure/ 

  27. https://www.govops.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2020/09/Assessment.pdf, page 49 

  28. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yCqeyJeKOVi29iBS02m7r_ZncB9L9fOQwghqrqXwEbM/edit 

  29. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1nBPDEa8l8RSrKgm2o8cx6RO7xYkEN7nyp1yVfGg6OXk/edit?ts=6061ef4a 

  30. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1yCqeyJeKOVi29iBS02m7r_ZncB9L9fOQwghqrqXwEbM/edit 

  31. https://madison.com/wsj/business/wisconsin-creating-plain-language-unemployment-applications-in-effort-to-address-claims-backlog/article_988d3fed-2ea3-5e63-9067-d3637cc2ba44.html 

  32. https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/press/210330-claims-portal.htm 

  33. https://dwd.wisconsin.gov/uibola/uiac/materials/2021/20210520meeting.pdf 

  34. https://www.nelp.org/publication/from-disrepair-to-transformation-how-to-revive-unemployment-insurance-information-technology-infrastructure/ 

  35. https://www.govops.ca.gov/wp-content/uploads/sites/11/2020/09/Assessment.pdf 

  36. https://wdr.doleta.gov/directives/attach/UIPL/UIPL_02-16.pdf 

  37. https://tcf.org/content/report/centering-workers-how-to-modernize-unemployment-insurance-technology/ 

  38. https://www.nelp.org/publication/from-disrepair-to-transformation-how-to-revive-unemployment-insurance-information-technology-infrastructure/ 

  39. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1k4kr0HsfBBFOvtSHnvjTyn6tGMldyudB92UEJl735J8/edit?ts=607dd3b8#heading=h.r6opfpd5aks2 [^69]: [https://docs.google.com/document/d/1k4kr0HsfBBFOvtSHnvjTyn6tGMldyudB92UEJl735J8/edit?ts=607dd3b8#heading=h.r6opfpd5aks2](https://docs.google.com/document/d/1k4kr0HsfBBFOvtSHnvjTyn6tGMldyudB92UEJl735J8/edit?ts=607dd3b8#heading=h.r6opfpd5aks2 

  40. “States also sought to align policies across work support programs to reduce administrative burdens on families eligible for more than one program. States established processes for cross-program review of new policies, aligned the timing of benefit redeterminations so families could renew benefits for two or more programs at the same time, and used electronic data to autoenroll SNAP recipients in Medicaid. By streamlining and aligning policies—or as an interviewee in one state put it, “reducing duplicative requests for the same paperwork”—states found they could improve outcomes for workers and clients. For more information on how WSS states changed policies to streamline access to work supports, see Isaacs, Katz, and Kassabian (2016).” https://www.urban.org/research/publication/findings-work-support-strategies-evaluation-streamlining-access-strengthening-families 

  41. https://www.urban.org/research/publication/findings-work-support-strategies-evaluation-streamlining-access-strengthening-families 

  42. https://www.nelp.org/publication/from-disrepair-to-transformation-how-to-revive-unemployment-insurance-information-technology-infrastructure/ 

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