The federal government is giving Iowa Workforce Development nearly two million dollars to upgrade the system used to track unemployment. IWD spokesperson, Kerry Koonce, says they will be upgrading the technology of the system.
“Overall the intentions are to be able to make it so claims can be processed faster — that lets individuals get paid quicker — but yet the enhancements will be in the checkpoints where we validate information on individual Social Security numbers, their names, individual dependents and those kinds of things,” Koonce says. All the verifications should be faster and more accurate with the new system. “And that allows us to cut down on fraud, and cut down on overpayments and those kinds of things,” Koonce says.
The processing of unemployment payments became a political issue earlier this year when a computer malfunction in March sent $27,000 in unemployment checks to 85 people who weren’t due benefits. The led to questions from Democratic lawmakers about how I-W-D director Teresa Wahlert was doing her job. Koonce says while this grant addresses payment concerns, it is not directly related. “It was something that we had already applied for when the Department of Labor put it out, so yeah, it was in the works before that,” Koonce says.
Part of the upgrade includes some new security features. “It allows us to track some more information quickly, it’s allowing us to make the claim information available in more languages as Iowa becomes a more diverse population. And it is automating some of what we call cross-matching,” Koonce says. She says that’s where they match what an employer says they paid in unemployment to the people who are requesting unemployment to speed of the process of identifying overpayment quicker on that end.
They hope to get the new software installed as quickly as possible. “There’s different amounts of time for different components, but we are given about 18 months from the U.S. Department of Labor to get it all up and done,” Koonce says. “Our goal is to get it up and running before that, be we do have that time frame to work within.”
The agency has to create specific software tailored to Iowa’s system. “While unemployment is a federal program, there’s state laws that regulate it, so the unemployment program is not the same in every state, and therefore you can’t just take something off the shelf,” Koonce says. The $1.78 million for the upgrade is all from federal funds and does not have to be matched by the state.