'80s computer technology delays EDD benefits for millions of Californians

WALNUT CREEK, Calif. (KGO) -- If you've ever worked with a clunky computer, you know what folks applying for unemployment are dealing with.

An audit of EDD released this week raises some perplexing issues about the agency's outdated computer system -- a technological nightmare that delayed jobless benefits for millions, including Carla Winter-Evans.

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The Walnut Creek woman belted out a tune for us on the spot. "Well, let me entertain you," she sang.

Unfortunately, the face painter and magician hasn't had much entertaining to do since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The disease shut down her party business, PartiArt.

"COVID hit. Everybody canceled. All the parties, events, picnic. That was it," she said.

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Fortunately for her, contract workers for the first time qualified for unemployment.

She received her first check in May for benefits going all the way back to the beginning of the pandemic.

Everything went smoothly until December when her benefits stopped without explanation.

"They cut me off like everyone else," she told 7 on Your Side. "I kept going online and checking and I kept sending in, you know, they have a form there where you can send in problems and stuff. Where's my payment?"

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On New Year's Eve, she received notification that her claim had been closed, again without explanation.

So she went back online to reopen her claim.

"You get to the last button. It's like you got to do everything at least two or three times in order for it to get through," Winter-Evans said.

Much has been reported about EDD's outdated computer system, which still relies on 80s computer technology run on the COBOL programming language.

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John Thomas Flynn is the former Chief Information Officer for California. The state hired him to deal with a similar problem with the DMV in the 1990s.

"It doesn't seem like we learned very much. Certainly, there were the technology problems that raised their head the whole issue of 'legacy systems,' which is a euphemism for 'old and falling apart systems' that are kept together with baling wire and chewing gum," he lamented.

The Auditor's report released this week doesn't directly address the outdated computer system. But it did question why so many claims had to be processed manually.

In the first six months of the pandemic, 48% of all claims had to be processed manually.

The implementation of the ID.me system in October helped increase the number of claims that could be processed automatically.

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Now just 10% of all claims need human intervention. But the auditor's report says that's not sustainable because shortcuts adopted during the pandemic will not be allowed post-pandemic.

Flynn says EDD needs to be more assertive in demanding money to upgrade its computer system. "The computer system is old. That's a 'dog ate my homework' kind of excuse. They need to ask and demand the resources to fix those systems. And that's what should happen," he said.

At the very least, Flynn calls for a two-factor verification system common in today's financial world to prevent fraud.

As Winter-Evans knows, it takes more than hocus pocus to make problems disappear.

"Okay, will you blow on this right here?" she asked as she prepared to show us a magic trick.

Winter-Evans says she's confident her issue will be resolved soon and her benefits will resume. We reached out to EDD for comment for this story and they did not get back us.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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