EDD under fire in Sacramento hearing

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) - Lawmakers want answers about what went wrong when the Employment Development Department rolled out their upgraded computer system for unemployment benefits. The State Assembly Insurance committee grilled EDD top brass, pressing for answers and looking for ways to prevent future problems.

On Wednesday morning, the legislators said they'd heard from frustrated constituents who couldn't get their benefits for weeks.

"Those involved should own their pieces of the mistakes," said committee chairman Henry Perea, D-Fresno.

EDD launched the new system over the Labor Day weekend, but nearly 150,000 claims were delayed for weeks. At the Assembly hearing, lawmakers were frustrated it took EDD weeks to realized the extent of the problem.

One lawmaker at the hearing called the problem an "unmitigated disaster." An EDD spokeswoman apologized, saying the agency "sincerely regrets the delay."

The department was attempting to transition from a 30-year-old system to the new one. An EDD spokeswoman said the hang-up was the amount of time it took staff to deal with so-called "stop payment flags." Under the old system that took just minutes, but it required a lot more time with the upgrade.

"That was a mistake on our part," EDD Unemployment Branch Deputy Director Sabrina Reed said. "We made an assumption that wasn't accurate on our part. And, that was estimating the time that it would take to stop those 'stop pay flags' in the new system."

The EDD officials and spokesmen with the software provider admitted they should have done "time and motion" studies first.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzales, D-San Diego, also wanted to know why EDD administrators weren't listening to staff reports about problems with the news system. She was told administrators thought the delays were due to a "learning curve" for the staff.

Software provider Deloitte also came under fire at the hearing. "I am going to propose legislation, and we are going to take a look at the contract process and change it, and build accountability into the legislation," vowed Senator Ted Gaines, R-Rocklin.

The committee said they'll give EDD a list of changes they want, including better communication with the public and options to improve access to the call centers.

EDD says they've struggled with low staffing levels, and a very high volume of claims. As for the computer system problems, the EDD officials said they've worked overtime to fix that.

But, the committee members said they're also worried about EDD plans to roll out a new website "portal" to the public next year. They don't want a repeat of the problems that caused hardships for many of their constituents.

"I think the frustration that we got from constituents were just the lack of answers," Gonzales said. "I was frustrated that we weren't warned that this was going to happen beforehand."