Computer glitch keeps benefits from unemployed
Published: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 5:56 a.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, September 18, 2013 at 5:56 a.m.
Martha Paige can't be sure the computer glitch that halted unemployment benefits for tens of thousands of people in California is the reason why she hasn't received a payment in more than a month.
The Petaluma widow said she's been unable to get a response from Employment Development Department officials, despite numerous calls to their offices.
But she's feeling the pinch just the same. At 69 years old, Paige has been unable to get a job since she was laid off in May from Sutter VNA and Hospice. And the $840 a month benefit she got from the state was a necessary supplement to her modest Social Security check.
“Fortunately, it's just me and my two dogs and a cat, so I can survive on a can of soup or something,” said Paige, whose husband of 38 years, Conrad Paige, died last year. “But what about other people who don't have what I have? It must be really hard for them.”
State unemployment officials said Tuesday they were trying to solve the problem but couldn't say exactly when payments would resume for everyone.
The EDD is still working out the bugs in a new computer system installed Labor Day weekend that mistakenly stopped payments to a portion of the 800,000 people statewide who collect jobless benefits.
The upgrade to the 30-year-old system inadvertently “red flagged” some recipients, canceling payments to debit cards or bank accounts, said Patti Roberts, an agency spokeswoman.
EDD staffers are scrambling to restore benefits, going into the system and inputting accounts by hand, she said. Once the corrections are made, payments should return to normal soon, she said.
About 15,000 of the 50,000 claims for benefits that were more than 10 days old were processed Monday night, Roberts said.
“It's a one-time deal,” Roberts said. “We absolutely are concerned about it. Unemployment benefits are a lifeline to most people.”
More than 12,000 people on the North Coast are collecting unemployment benefits while searching for a new job, including 7,700 people in Sonoma County, 1,250 in Mendocino County, 1,400 in Lake County and 1,900 in Napa County. It was unclear Tuesday how many were affected by the glitch.
Jennifer, an unemployed teacher from Upper Lake who asked that her last name not be used, said she was supposed to receive a direct deposit by Wednesday.
But it didn't come. Now she's without money to pay bills until the end of the month, when she'll get a check from the school district for several days of substitute teaching.
“I'm living on the unemployment so it does make it hard,” Jennifer said. “Subbing doesn't pay until the end of the month so I'll just have to go without.”
Others reported ongoing problems, including missed benefits or undelivered claims forms.
EDD officials cautioned that not all the problems are associated with the new computer system. Some people have been found ineligible or need to supply additional information before they can get benefits, Roberts said.
And those who reported problems starting before Labor Day weekend couldn't have been affected by the system upgrade, she said.
Still, it's little consolation to Paige, who says she's not receiving the benefits that she's entitled to after being laid off from her job of eight years.
The last time she received a check was Aug. 3. On top of that, the state missed a two-week period in July, she said.
She said she called EDD officials to ask for help but got nowhere. She couldn't get anyone to explain what was wrong or say when her benefits would resume, she said.
“It's the worst,” she said. “It's like asking for an appointment with the Pope.”
Meanwhile, Paige said she's returned to her old employer on a volunteer basis. She says she loves the people and doesn't mind helping with clerical work and foundation mailings.
“A woman my age can't find a job,” she said. “Nobody will hire me. All I can do is volunteer.”
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