Timeliness in the Unemployment Compensation Appeals Process: The Need for Increased Federal Oversight

Anecdotal evidence suggests that during the recession of 1989-1992, unemployment insurance claimants suffered unprecedented delays in the receipt of their benefits. Advocates reported that claimants who were initially denied benefits suffered delays of months, and even years, before the state administrative appeals process resolved their claims. Although federal law establishes timeliness standards for processing appeals, many states did not meet those standards. In this Article, the Authors discuss and analyze the results of a nationwide review of state compliance with federal timeliness standards. They then assess the state and federal responses to the increased number of unemployment insurance claims and identify trends that result in significant delays in processing unemployment insurance appeals. The Authors argue that the reporting system required by federal law (1) is inadequate as a tool to project increases in workload which will inevitably result in delays; (2) actually penalizes states who are successful in resolving high numbers of old claims; and (3) ineffectively enforces compliance with timeliness standards. They suggest changes to the reporting requirements and to the relationship between the United States Department of Labor and the states, which they believe will enable states to effectively anticipate increased appeals and to implement plans for dealing with increased workload before serious backlogs and delays occur.