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ID verification kiosks aim to assist Pennsylvanians applying for unemployment benefits

  • Kate Giammarise/WESA
Demonstrators at a rally last year about the state's unemployment backlog.

 Ashton Jones / 90.5 WESA

Demonstrators at a rally last year about the state's unemployment backlog.

State officials say a new initiative will aid Pennsylvanians filing for unemployment compensation.

Identity verification kiosks have been installed at 17 CareerLink offices and 29 UPS locations around the Commonwealth; the state Department of Labor and Industry is aiming to have kiosks at all CareerLink offices by July. None are up and running in Pittsburgh yet, though state officials said they hope to have them available locally by the last week of June.

People applying for unemployment aid online must go through certain digital identity verification measures, including, in most cases, verification through, a private company contracted by the state to verify that unemployment claimants are who they say they are.

State officials contracted with the company in 2020 to stem a wave of pandemic-related unemployment fraud. But advocates complained the process also shut out real people with legitimate claims who struggled with technology, or who did not have access to a computer or tablet with a webcam.

The new kiosks will help people who don’t have internet access or who just need extra assistance navigating technology, state Labor and Industry officials said.

“For those …that aren’t able to upload documents and identify themselves through pictures online or through their smartphones, this just gives them another opportunity,” Department of Labor and Industry Secretary Nancy Walker said in an interview with WESA this week. “And for people who show up at a CareerLink to use the kiosks, there are people there, they’re trained … they can help them through the process.”

Advocates said the state has made strides in helping out-of-work Pennsylvanians navigate the process, but noted that the quality of in-person assistance would be critical if the effort is to succeed in helping claimants access unemployment.

“What everyone needs more than anything else when they are trying to understand this process is another human,” said Julia Simon-Mishel, supervising attorney of the unemployment compensation unit at Philadelphia Legal Assistance.

State legislators’ offices were inundated with requests for unemployment help for much of the pandemic.

“My staff would sometimes sit with people with issues for up to two hours. … We were doing our best to help them navigate because it was the place that they could come to,” said Democratic State Senator Lindsey Williams of West View.

Anything that increases access to in-person assistance is welcome, she said. did not make a representative available for an interview, but in response to questions, said it “works to level the digital playing field for underserved communities by offering multiple, inclusive verification options and tools like language support.”

During the pandemic, Pennsylvania’s unemployment compensation system struggled with low staffing and a huge amount of both real and fraudulent claims, leading to busy phone lines and major backlogs for benefits for the out-of-work.

Walker said the Department of Labor and Industry has beefed up staffing and eliminated a backlog of pandemic-era claims.

“We all need to work together to make our UC system better for the next crisis,” Williams said.

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