Labor promotes online benefits

The Labor Department recently awarded grants to several states to develop ways to file
unemployment claims online.


For the past three years, Labor has given up to $500,000 to states that submit the best
proposals for electronic filing systems.


Labor in September gave $500,000 each to Iowa and Wisconsin, $458,600 to North
Carolina, $399,553 to Wyoming and $157,612 to New Hampshire.


Labor’s Unemployment Insurance Service began a national effort to bring
unemployment insurance claims online in 1994. It established the Information Technology
Support Center, a collaboration of state employment security agencies, Labor, and
industry.


ITSC, based in Maryland, plans to incorporate a public and private data encryption
product based on those developed by states into its prototype system.


Job seekers can post their resumes at the site, as well as create and save cover
letters for future job searches. Employers can also search for talent nationwide without
leaving the office.


Labor also has a site just for IT workers at http://it.jobsearch.org/.


Labor runs the site in partnership with the National Association of Retired Persons,
the American Association of Retired People, Office of Personnel Management and the Defense
Department.


Those who file unemployment claims on Jan. 4, 1999, will have a benefit year-ending
date of Jan. 3, 2000.


Unless the systems are fixed, they will be unable to process such accounting, GAO said.


GAO, in its September report, Year 2000 Computing Crisis: Progress Made at Department
of Labor, But Key Systems at Risk, said Labor’s systems won’t be ready until
February.


Even if systems are ready before Jan. 1, the programs could face difficulty on the
state and local level.


The programs are run for the most part by the states or local governments, and if their
systems are not ready, benefits could be disrupted.


James McMullen, Labor’s Deputy Information Chief, told Congress in September that
Washington and Puerto Rico would not be ready in time. Arkansas, Delaware, New Mexico,
Montana, Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Nevada and the Virgin Islands also are behind,
McMullen said.


Labor will most likely face date code problems because of the high number of data
exchanges the department has with the states, GAO said.


Labor has 3,303 electronic data exchanges with states, of which 2,922 are used for
transferring unemployment benefits.


Unemployment insurance will pay an estimated $24 billion to 8 million workers during
fiscal 1999, McMullen said.   

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