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Tech glitch delays state unemployment checks

December 9, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
The holidays are tough enough when you don't have a job. They might get even tougher for a large number of Californians whose unemployment checks are being held up. What's the surprising reason for the delay? It's the glitch that could steal Christmas from tens of thousands of Californians who are unemployed. And these are the ones who need it most. They are the ones whose benefits have expired.

At the Glendale office, workers are processing unemployment applications. They see about 500 people a day. But an estimated 117,000 people statewide aren't receiving their checks just yet. They're already delayed for nearly a month. The problem is the Employment Development Department is using 30-year-old computers and spokeswoman Lori Levy says they are having trouble reprogramming them.

"We're doing everything we can here to be able to make these payments before Christmas. That means we're testing through the weekend, we're on around the clock shifts so we're doing everything we can to try to get these benefits out the door before Christmas," said Levy.

Last month President Barack Obama signed a law that extends unemployment benefits for an additional 14 weeks. It would go to people who have been out of work so long their benefits had expired. But the state's computers can't recognize the extensions. Programmers are working to change the computer system but it's going to take time, possibly delaying checks until right around Christmas.

"It's quite complex and also, we've never quite seen the number of weeks associated with an extension that we are seeing here. It's in record territory. So it's been very difficult for states to implement this new federal extension program," said Levy.

Levy says there are delays in other states as well. But California has one of the largest systems in the nation. About 1.2 million people have open claims for jobless benefits. Overhauling the computer system in the Glendale office would cost about $300 million.

"I hope everything goes well but something is always going on and I anticipated it before I came," said Eduardo Paz who came to check on his benefits Wednesday. "There's too many people and of course they're going to have a hassle with some things. I'm accepting it. I'm fine."

The good news is that state officials say they are now testing the new computer program and they should start processing checks sometime next week. Some could arrive just before the holidays.


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