State computer problems delay unemployment checks

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — Tens of thousands of California residents aren't getting their unemployment checks on time because of computer problems at a state agency.

The Employment Development Department said Friday about 185,000 of the nearly 800,000 Californians who receive unemployment benefits have been impacted by problems with the agency's processing system. About 80,000 of them still haven't gotten their checks.

Liz Gardner of Chico told The Sacramento Bee that her telephone has been disconnected while waiting since Labor Day for a $436 check.

"Rent's coming up on the 1st," Gardner, 48, said. "I have a late payment on my credit card."

The employment department has been working for months to upgrade its 30-year-old unemployment insurance system. The nearly $188 million upgrade is designed to let residents submit certifications for benefits online or by telephone, among other efficiencies.

Earlier this week the department said about 50,000 Californians had claims delayed after an error occurred when several years of old data were converted to the new system over Labor Day weekend. The number of affected residents has grown since then.

Hundreds of department employees will work on the backlog over the weekend when few new claims will be filed, said EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy, an EDD spokeswoman. The agency could not estimate when the problem will be resolved.

"We've just got to get this one-time issue cleared up," Levy said. "We think that we're going to be able to see these numbers coming down significantly over the course of this weekend."

In data released Thursday, the federal government said initial jobless claims in California decreased by 25,412 in the week ending Sept. 7, but the state attributed the unusually steep decline to "Labor Day holiday and computer system updates."

The employment department had trouble processing jobless claims even before the latest computer problem arose. A state audit in November found California didn't meet federal standards for timeliness in processing claims, taking longer than 40 other states.

On its website, the agency apologized for the delay, saying employees are "working around the clock and through the weekends" to fix the problem. It added it has been "limited by a staffing shortage created by reduced federal funding."