State Unemployment Up; Unemployment–Check Computer System Down

Monday, September 23, 2013

The state Employment Development Department (EDD), which sends out unemployment checks every month, says on its website that it is “wrapping up work” on upgrades to its 30-year-old computer system.

Apparently it still has a few kinks.

The launch of the system’s back end on Labor Day resulted in thousands of jobless people not getting their benefits checks. The EDD said on Thursday that it had just cleared 11,000 backlogged claims dating back to the holiday. Early last week the department said 50,000 of the state’s 800,000 recipients were affected. On Tuesday, officials said 15,000 of the backlog had been cleared.and they hoped to finish up by the end of the week.

As of Friday, the list of unfortunates still on backlog had grown, instead, to 80,000 and the total number recipients affected topped 185,000. That’s the day the EDD announced that the jobless rate in California edged up for the second month in a row, to 8.9% in August. An unpaid benefit claim is officially backlogged when it is 10 days overdue.

EDD officials, still hoping for a quick resolution of the problem, blamed a staffing shortage from budget cuts for not being able to respond quicker to the computer problems. The department said it “dramatically” reduced its hours of phone customer service in May because of a $158 million cut in federal funding.

Those cuts are a combination of sequester slashing and already existing administrative underfunding by the federal government. The funding shortfall cost 900 EDD workers their jobs by last May, and put another 1,600 on the chopping block.

A report (pdf) by the State Auditor in 2011 said the department was lousy about sending checks out on time even before its staff was whacked and its computers were messed with. But it did note that the department workload was pretty screwed up by a more-than-doubling of the unemployment rate and generous federal benefit extensions during the Great Recession.

Hopefully, EDD will have solved its back end problems in time to deal with the upcoming launch of the public portion of the new system. UI Online, which will roll out in the next couple of months, lets customers get more information about their claims and manage aspects of them, like changing an address, without having to talk with a representative.

That’s a good thing, because reaching a representative in a few months could be problematic.

–Ken Broder     


To Learn More:

Impact of State Computer Problem Grows Wider, Delaying Unemployment Checks for about 185,000 Californians (by David Siders, Sacramento Bee)

A Triple Dose of Bad News for Unemployed Workers (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

Its Unemployment Program Has Struggled (State Auditor) (pdf)

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