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Brace yourself: Pa. unemployment is getting a new computer system. Here’s what you need to know.

The state claims the new system will be faster and easier to use. But experts say the odds of success are poor, and this is a dangerous time to be making a shift of this magnitude.

Thousands of Pennsylvania workers still wait weeks or even months in limbo to receive jobless benefits, or be denied.
Thousands of Pennsylvania workers still wait weeks or even months in limbo to receive jobless benefits, or be denied.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
When is the Pa. unemployment computer system going down and why?

The Department of Labor & Industry is replacing its 60-year-old computer system for unemployment benefits. Residents cannot file new claims from May 31 through June 7. And people with continuing claims cannot file from June 3 through June 7, according to the agency. The new system is expected to be back up on June 8.

Why do this now?

The state says that the upgrade is desperately needed, and that the new system will be much faster and easier to use. It has a $35 million contract with Florida-based Geographic Solutions Inc. to lead the project and manage the new system.

But experts warn that the state’s decision to shift now, while so many residents are using the benefits, is a huge risk and could make existing problems a lot worse. The odds for success are “really gruesome,” said Waldo Jaquith, a government technology expert at Georgetown University.

How many people are using the system?

In Pennsylvania, at least 212,600 are relying on state unemployment benefits, and an average of more than 22,000 new claims have been filed each week for months.

In addition, hundreds of thousands of claimants are stuck in a backlog, waiting for their state and federal claims to be reviewed. State officials contend that more than 80% of the roughly 200,000 pending federal claims are fraudulent; there are also more than 100,000 state claims pending review.

If I missed the deadline, am I out of luck?

You can file for these weeks after the new system comes online June 8 but the payment may take longer. No claims processing will occur during the shutdown. The system will be offline for everyone, including L&I staff. But they say the UC Service Center will answer email and phones at 888-313-7284. (The phone line was busy when a reporter tried it Thursday.) Officials maintain that they will take new inquiries from claimants and put them in the queue for when the system comes online.

Where can I get help using the new system?

L&I is hosting live workshops, providing video demonstrations, and offering written and visual walk-throughs of the new system.

Two are happening this weekend:

A full list of scheduled workshops is here at Recordings of each workshop will be uploaded to this page: on