June 6, 2022

Collaborating to Improve Unemployment Insurance

Unemployment insurance (UI) modernization has been a hot topic since millions of Americans had to apply for unemployment benefits—many for the first time—using largely archaic, complex, and unstable state systems during the COVID-19 pandemic. Many states and the federal government have known for years that these systems were vulnerable and needed a refresh: 24 states began or completed modernization projects for their UI benefits and tax systems between 2000 and 2021, with varying levels of success, and federal money has been going out the door specifically for such projects since 2009, when Congress passed the UI Modernization Act.

Expert organizations across civic tech, UI, and labor have published valuable playbooks for improving UI technology including:”Centering Workers: How to Modernize Unemployment Insurance Technology” from the Century Foundation, National Employment Law Project, and Philadelphia Legal Assistance; U.S. Digital Response’s (USDR) UI Modernization gitbook; and New America’s Playbook for Improving Unemployment Insurance Delivery.

These reports should shape UI programs and policy as federal and state/territory teams continue work on improving their systems. Instead of pursuing these recommendations on their own, however, the Intergovernmental Software Collaborative team at the Beeck Center for Social Impact + Innovation at Georgetown University believes that agencies and teams across the U.S. have the opportunity to build better digital service delivery through collaboration.

We have identified three clear paths to modernizing collaboratively on UI digital service delivery: consortia, federal shared services, and communities of practice. These paths are not the only options, nor are they mutually exclusive; indeed, we believe a combination will benefit states and the public alike. For all three, agencies should take an open source software approach using modern software development best practices, and drive product development iteratively with human-centered design.

Associated Projects

Contributing Authors

Shelby Switzer

Fellow