Computer system causes unemployment payment delays

  • Anne Perreira-Eustaquio, director of State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations.

HONOLULU — An outdated computer system used by the state Department of Labor and Industrial Relations has caused delays in processing jobless benefit claims.

Congress extended benefits in late December because of the coronavirus pandemic, but many Hawaii residents have gone more than a month without unemployment payments, Hawaii Public Radio reported Monday.

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Officials said a major reason for the delay is former-President Donald Trump’s failure to sign a benefits extension into law until after the previous programs expired, causing states to halt payments to claimants who used up their benefits.

But Hawaii labor department Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio said there are also serious challenges with the agency’s technology.

The department has had problems finding software technicians who can build an upgrade that handles the latest federal extension, Perreira-Eustaquio said

“We don’t have programmers who actually understand the computer language used to program this application,” Perreira-Eustaquio said.

The department’s information technology infrastructure is so old that rushing the work could crash the entire system, causing payment delays for more claimants, she said.

It is not clear exactly how many Hawaii residents have been affected, but the figure likely is several thousand.

The federal Bureau of Labor Statistics indicated about 68,700 people in Hawaii are unemployed, giving the state an unemployment rate of 9.3%, which leads the nation.

Perreira-Eustaquio could not provide an estimate of when the department’s computer upgrade will be completed, but she said the changes will not be ready at least for months.

The labor department signed a contract last week with Idaho-based Solid State Operations to modernize the system, although short-term delays are expected to persist.

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The upgrade will be a substantial improvement from the current system, including a function to process appeals of department decisions, Perreira-Eustaquio said.

“We’re creating a fully functional web-based application system, with interface applications for both claimants and employers,” she said.

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