Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

Perea leads lawmakers’ grilling of state officials over jobless check delays

David Siders of The Sacramento Bee’s Capitol Bureau reports on Wednesday’s hearing about delayed jobless benefits:

Assembly Member Henry T. Perea, D-Fresno, chairman of the Assembly Insurance Committee, speaks with reporters after a committee hearing at the Capitol on Nov. 6, 2013. The Sacramento Bee/David Siders

The state Assembly Insurance Committee, led by Fresno Democrat Henry T. Perea, blasted state officials for their oversight of a computer problem that delayed jobless benefits for nearly 150,000 Californians, while front-line employees testified Wednesday that problems persist.

The oversight hearing was the first on the troubled project. (Perea told The Los Angeles Times’ David Lazarus ahead of the meeting that the goal was to make sure issues that caused the delay don’t arise again.)

A miscalculation converting old unemployment claims into a new processing system over the Labor Day weekend resulted in a massive backlog of unemployment claims. The problem became so severe it skewed reporting of initial jobless claims by the U.S. Department of Labor, and it provided another example of the state’s information-technology shortcomings.

“I think the fundamental issue for the state is we are the home of Silicon Valley, we are seen as the most technologically adept state in the nation,” said Assembly Member Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova. “To have this sort of thing happening is a colossal problem.”

While EDD administrators said backlog claims have largely been resolved, Irene Livingston, an employment program representative for EDD In San Jose, testified that it remains “nearly impossible” for unemployed Californians to reach front-line employees. She said the system is overwhelmed with telephone calls and an email system that remains backlogged.

“There’s literally hundreds of thousands of messages that have yet to receive a response,” she said.

EDD administrators lamented staffing shortages at the department, but EDD Chief Deputy Director Sharon Hilliard told the committee that staffing levels were not responsible for the computer problem. The department greatly underestimated how many claimants would be affected by a glitch in data conversion done over the Labor Day weekend, as well as how long it would take employees to address the problem.

“For this, we are very sorry,” Hilliard said.

Hilliard and a representative of Deloitte Consulting, the contractor on the project, both said the department should have done a more thorough test on the amount of time required to address “stop pay” flags associated with a portion of claims being converted.

(Perea summarized the hearing on his webpage — including some audiofiles.)  

Read more from Capitol Alert

Friday update

Perea’s office released a letter that he sent to Hilliard, the EDD chief, outlining five specific things that the Assembly committee asked the EDD to do:

1. Update the criteria for determining eligibility on an untimely claim.

2. Update the criteria for determining whether an applicant’s ongoing training is a valid reason for not looking for a job.

3. Improve communication with claimants.

4. Look into having more multi-language documents and web pages.

5. Improve the EDD call center.

— The Fresno Bee