SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — California officials knew a computer upgrade for the state’s unemployment insurance program that delayed tens of thousands of benefit checks was vulnerable to problems before it was installed, according to a report from The Sacramento Bee.
The newspaper reported officials underestimated how many unemployment claims would be affected by a glitch in the nearly $188 million system upgrade implemented over Labor Day weekend.
The data-conversion problem delayed jobless benefits for nearly 150,000 Californians, skewing reporting of initial jobless claims by the U.S. Department of Labor.
The governor’s office ordered the Employment Development Department in late September to begin paying backlogged claims immediately, putting off a determination on payment eligibility. The agency announced in early October that it had cleared the backlog of claims.
Employment Development Department officials had believed the problem in converting old unemployment claims to the new system would affect only a small number of people whose claims could be approved by hand. They initially cheered the computer upgrade, which appeared at first to be a success.
In a Sept. 11 email obtained by the Bee through a public records request, the department’s deputy director for information technology, Gail Overhouse, indicated to other IT officials that the problem was larger than expected.
She wrote that the unemployment insurance program “knew this situation would occur, however, they believed the number of claims that would be routed for manual processing would be much less, so they planned on handling it as a manual workload.”
“Well, it turns out we have a high number of claims getting routed into the queue,” Overhouse wrote.
Another employee at a customer-service center emailed department officials a day after the new system went live to highlight problems with opening new claims and helping claimants.
Emails indicate the governor’s press office directed officials to push a message that reduced federal funding was part of the problem. In one message, Employment Development Department spokeswoman Loree Levy wrote that the governor’s office was requesting estimates on the employee overtime needed to address the delayed payments in order to bolster that message.
The agency has apologized for the delay and says employees were working around the clock to process backlogged claims. Levy told the Bee that tests conducted prior to the computer changes suggested the problem would be manageable.
The state has had difficulty with other big technology projects, including an upgrade to the state payroll system that was abandoned earlier this year.