Unemployment Insurance American Rescue Plan Act Gap Analysis

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The American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), signed into law in March 2021, has provided a wide range of supports to help the United States bear the economic impact of the pandemic, including allocating $2 billion for the unemployment insurance (UI) system. The U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration (ETA) is using the part of the ARPA funds to support new UI benefit programs and projects designed to transform the system.

In June 2021, Maher & Maher—now part of AIR—was chosen to support ETA’s launch of a new project under ARPA, UI Advance: Creating a Path Forward. For this project, our team:

  • Completed background research and five landscape reviews of over 140 documents related to Unemployment Insurance and equity and customer journeys, plain language communications, translation services, master contracts and vendors, and data and metrics.
  • Held a series of 20 facilitated virtual listening sessions with UI representatives to assess the critical issues that states were experiencing, identify technical assistance needs, and inform policy recommendations. Over 150 state UI representatives from 41 states participated in the sessions.  
  • Developed a report that captured the findings from the listening sessions, including the pressing issues facing states in each topic area and emerging and innovative state practices, and outlined opportunities for ETA to have an impact on the UI system by collaborating with and providing technical assistance to states.
  • Conducted a review of ETA’s ability to address the technical assistance needs reported by states. The review consisted of facilitated virtual listening sessions and interviews with leadership and staff from ETA’s relevant national and regional offices.
  • Provided an analysis of ETA’s approved equity grants, entitled Promoting Equitable Access to Unemployment Compensation Programs: Overview of State Equity Grants. The report includes an analysis of 124 different projects designed to promote equitable access to unemployment compensation programs, which include eliminating administrative barriers to benefit applications, reducing state workload backlogs, improving the timeliness of compensation payments to eligible individuals, and ensuring equity in fraud prevention, detection, and recovery activities.

The final report conveys the complete analysis and recommendations for the UI Advance: Creating a Path Forward project and lays out a recommended TA Plan to address the five identified topic areas of equity and customer journeys, plain language communications, translation services, master contracts and vendors, and data and metrics.

The plan presents a premier TA approach, which addresses identified TA needs and offers suggested approaches to increase capacity to deliver TA, including recommended methods of delivery and an estimate of the level of investment required to implement each strategy. The TA Plan also provides considerations for how ETA might evaluate the impact of the TA over time, leading to an effective continuous improvement cycle.