September 17, 2013

Unemployment checks delayed amid California state computer system upgrade

Computer problems have delayed benefit checks for about 50,000 unemployed Californians.

About 50,000 unemployed Californians have had their benefit checks delayed as the state struggles to implement a computer system upgrade, officials said Tuesday.

The Employment Development Department said it processed about 15,000 of the delayed claims by Tuesday morning and hoped to finish the rest by the end of the week.

The delay, affecting about 6 percent of the state’s 800,000 claimants, is the latest black eye for a state that has had difficulty executing technology projects. State Controller John Chiang dumped a quarter-billion-dollar state payroll system upgrade earlier this year.

EDD said it has been working for months to upgrade its 30-year-old unemployment insurance processing system. The project is part of a multiyear, nearly $188 million system upgrade described by the California Department of Technology as designed to let residents submit certifications for unemployment insurance benefits online or by telephone, among other things.

The California Department of Technology has rated the project as “fairly healthy” in recent reviews.

Loree Levy, an EDD spokeswoman, said a problem arose when the employment department converted several years of old claim data into a new processing system over the Labor Day weekend. Old claim data came with “stop pay” flags that interfered with about 16 percent of submissions received during the first two weeks of September, she said.

“We really are all hands on deck to get these folks taken care of,” Levy said.

Affected claimants include some new filers and others who submitted relatively complex claims, according to the department. Levy said employees are manually adjusting affected accounts to clear them for payment, a one-time adjustment that she said should not reoccur.

For affected accounts, she said, “We’re getting in there to manually work it through.”

The department posted a notice on its website saying employees are “working around the clock and through the weekends to try and get these payments issued for the customers eligible and waiting for benefits.”

EDD apologized for the mistake while lamenting what it said is a staffing shortage and lack of funding.

“We have dedicated every available resource to this effort,” the department said on its website, before adding that “however, we are limited by a staffing shortage created by reduced federal funding.”

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