Labor Department announces grants for states to expand UI access

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The latest in a series of grants available to states for unemployment compensation programs focus on improving access to the benefit by partnering with community-based organizations for education about unemployment insurance.

The Department of Labor is giving states up to $15 million in grants meant to ensure that Americans eligible for unemployment insurance apply for and receive their benefits. 

The grants to states will be funded by the American Rescue Plan Act, which was signed into law in March 2021. 

This is one of several infusions of cash to state agencies that deliver unemployment insurance, and part of DOL’s own efforts to play a larger role in UI tech, the old age of which became felt during the pandemic as states dealt with surges in legitimate claims from those needing benefits and claims from fraudsters. 

So far, the department has established a UI-focused office to manage the $2 billion dedicated to UI in the American Rescue Plan Act. 

The latest set of grants, called the UI Navigator Program, are meant to help states mitigate any disparities in access to benefits and educate workers on how to apply for unemployment compensation.

States will be eligible to get up to $3 million in funding. They’ll have to use it to partner with community-based organizations like labor unions, colleges and other nonprofits for outreach and education around UI, as well as “general assistance with completing applications for unemployment benefits.”

The Labor Department says that this will help states deliver benefits to workers, “especially individuals in groups that are historically underserved, marginalized, and adversely affected by persistent poverty and inequality.”

Already, the office has made $260 million available as “equity grants” for improving customer services and reducing backlogs of claims. Another $140 million is centered on “fraud grants” meant to cover ID verification tools and data analytics for states. 

Other work DOL is pursuing for UI is developing modular tech with the U.S. Digital Service for states to use to modernize the UI programs.