The COVID-19 pandemic has created a historic rate of job loss across the nation. In addition to providing additional funding and extensions for unemployment insurance overall, the CARES Act includes a new program called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA), which expands benefits to workers who were previously ineligible, including roughly 16 million Americans who are self-employed, independent contractors and freelancers. This sudden and dramatic increase in claims and the need to quickly stand up a new program is putting state unemployment processing systems under incredible strain, and the new rules for previously ineligible workers will only add to that.
Working with the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training and Amazon Web Services (AWS), Research Improving People’s Lives (RIPL) built, tested and deployed a tool and process — the RIPL CARES system — to accept claims applications, conduct verification, and pass prepared application data to the payment processing mainframe while routing incorrect data for efficient processing to provide benefits for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) to the gig workers, contract workers, self-employed individuals and small business owners of Rhode Island. The RIPL CARES system is cloud-based, secure, elastic with demand, and packaged with a how-to quick start guide. It is easily deployable in other states, and can be set up in one week. Depending on a state’s existing benefits system, minor modifications may be needed. You can view the system the way an applicant would at https://covidemergencyuibenefits.dlt.ri.gov/.
The goal of setting up the RIPL CARES benefits system is to get everyday Americans (specifically gig workers, contract workers, self-employed individuals and small business owners) their unemployment benefits as quickly as possible. The RIPL CARES strategy is to take as much work off state mainframe systems as possible so that they can do what they do well — which is accept clean data and process payments. We do this in three simple steps:
For states that would like to use this approach, we will provide:
As PUA benefits applications are processed, states can handle errors through the normal processes because the files that come in would be considered clean in the normal process and/or throw an error in the normal process. However, the new system has controls on the front end to get clean data from applicants, which can be processed through the AS 400 or equivalent systems with minimal errors.
Because the system is built in a secure cloud environment, states can extend the system to analyze data from the benefits applications and receipt joined to other administrative data on earnings, employment and public assistance to understand how impacted communities are affected, help state leaders make decisions about economic recovery efforts and connect impacted populations to government support systems and training programs. RIPL has developed a set of analyses with Rhode Island data to help states learn about the economic impact of COVID-19 and PUA benefits on workers and their families. Policymakers can use these facts to prepare and plan for economic recovery with data and facts to guide them.
Research Improving People’s Lives (RIPL) is a non-profit, social impact, tech organization that works with governments to help them use data, science, and technology to improve policy and lives. We work with faculty research affiliates from top research universities across the country to provide powerful, scientific-grade insights at the speed of policy directly to policymakers so that they can positively impact lives, solve pressing social challenges, and build their own capacity to innovate and measure success going forward. To learn more about RIPL, visit www.ripl.org