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Montana upgrades 'archaic' unemployment system

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Mark Moran

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(Big Sky Connection) Montana has upgraded its outdated online unemployment insurance system, which should allow the state to process unemployment claims more efficiently. The system had not been modernized in more than 20 years.

The last time Montana updated its online unemployment insurance system, people were still using dial-up modems on their home landlines and Windows 95 software to access the internet. The new system was over a year in the making.

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Sarah Swanson, commissioner of Labor and Industry, said new features will make it easier for claimants to file for benefits and for employers to pay their unemployment taxes. 

"It allows secure messaging," Swanson pointed out. "Instead of having to communicate via phone or 'snail mail' with our staff at Unemployment, claimants can now chat with them, directly and securely, right from that cell phone or that tablet. And it also has secure, electronic fact-finding."

Swanson noted it can save days or weeks clearing up reporting inconsistencies between a claimant and previous employer. Ironically, Montana's unemployment rate is historically low at just 2.3 percent, or about 13,000 people.

But Swanson cautioned numbers this low are not typical for Montana, and expects an uptick based on past data.

"Historically, we've only had 27 months -- in the history of reporting in Montana -- where we've had unemployment under 3 percent," Swanson emphasized. "Interestingly enough, 25 of those 27 months have been the last 25 months."

Nearly a quarter-million claimant accounts were migrated into the new system, where Swanson added the average unemployment claim now takes only about 6.5 minutes to file.