Web put to work on jobless claims

The Texas Workforce Commission is testing an unemployment insurance Web application that could cut the time needed to verify the claim of an unemployed person.

Previously when a person filed for unemployment compensation, the agency mailed an initial notice of claim to the person's last employer, who then had 10 days to respond by mail to the claim verifying the unemployed person was released for a particular reason.

With the new application, the commission mails out claims to employers, who can then respond by filling out the information via the agency's Web site, significantly speeding up the time it takes for an unemployed person to receive benefits, said Chris Politte, a partner with Accenture, which co-developed the application with the MMC Group, an Irving, Texas-based information technology firm.

Eventually the system could be made entirely electronic, he said.

The application is significant for another reason. It is the first contract to be awarded under a Texas mentor/protege program pairing large vendor companies with minority- or women-owned businesses, often referred to as historically underutilized businesses (HUBs).

Politte said the year-old program, launched to help HUBs grow, has no ground rules in its selection process. So when the contract was up for bid, Accenture invited several HUBs to develop proposals, and MMC was selected based on its proposal, he said. Under the program, the HUB is required to contribute to 30 percent of a contract.

The Texas Workforce Commission (www.texasworkforce.org) actually contracted with Accenture one and a half years ago to develop an e-government plan and move its services to the Internet, Politte said. From that partnership, a new, better-organized Web site was designed and projects were prioritized. The unemployment insurance service is one of the first applications being developed from that plan, he added.

Nationwide, Politte said that unemployment insurance services via the Web are just beginning to emerge.

"Most states are just now moving in a similar direction," he said, adding that he has talked with seven states in the past two months. "With Sept. 11, the unemployment insurance claims filing has just exploded. Most states are seeing 1.5 to 2 times the claim-filing load from this year over last year. Texas is one of the first states beginning to place Web transactions out there for processing."

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