The old system will go offline on June 3, with the new system in place on June 8.By Jon Delano

HARRISBURG, Pa. (KDKA) — The state’s unemployment office is upgrading its computer system, promising faster and easier service for those receiving unemployment benefits.

But the changeover to a new system could create short-term headaches for some.

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Few agencies have been criticized more during this pandemic than the state’s unemployment office. They were ill-prepared for the deluge of unemployment claims, very short-staffed for customer service and plagued with an antiquated computer system.

Now that could be changing.

“We are entering an exciting time for the department. Beginning next week, the transition to our new faster, easier-to-use unemployment benefits system will be underway,” Acting Labor & Industry Secretary Jennifer Berrier announced on Friday.

Berrier acknowledged that the old system was crashing too much and too slow for users to operate.

“It was held together with rubber bands and duct tape. It truly was. We had to hold our breath every time we had to alter that system to make a federal change to it,” Berrier said. “There’s going to be no more holding our breath. We are going to have a good system with good code, and we’re going to be able to make changes to that.”

That will require a blackout period that could impact some of the million-plus Pennsylvanians on unemployment, said Berrier. The old system will go offline on June 3, with the new system in place on June 8.

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“Anyone who needs to file next week should do so Sunday through Wednesday so their claim is processed before the system goes offline on Thursday,” said the secretary.

That’s for bi-weekly claims. The system will not accept new claims for unemployment after this Sunday until June 8. After that, those on unemployment will file online weekly to receive weekly benefits.

The new system is designed to be more user-friendly.

“During times of high-volume use, the new system will actually invoke a virtual waiting room. This will place people into a queue to enter the website, which will prevent too many users from logging on at the same time and causing crashes and slowness for all users,” Berrier said.

The secretary made no promises on how quickly this new system might resolve the backlog of 300,000 still unprocessed claims.

“I believe I announced earlier where we announced that we would have anywhere from 500 to 1,000 customer service representatives on our phones. I am happy to announce by June 7, we will have an additional 500 customer service representatives on our phone.”

Officials say most benefits should not be affected during this transition.

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We have links to a schedule of online workshops to help you get ready for the new system here and here.