SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — Could the Employment Development Department’s aging computer system be keeping you from your money?

An audit last month raised concerns that EDD computers could cause delayed unemployment payments like the ones we’re hearing about from viewers.

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We learned that during the last recession, each time lawmakers increased or extended unemployment, it took EDD anywhere from two to six weeks to reprogram its computers before people got paid.

Now some are wondering if that’s what’s happening this time around.

Labor Secretary Julie Su acknowledged concerns over EDD’s outdated computers last week but said technology limits would not keep them from getting payments out quickly.

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Many like Sal, a substitute teacher, aren’t so sure. He was approved by EDD for benefits five weeks ago now but still has not received his EDD debit card.

And independent contractors, like hairstylist Danielle, can’t even apply for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance yet because the EDD is still programming its computers.

Dale Jablonsky, now a consultant for KPMG, was the head of technology at EDD during the last recession. He explained the EDD has a 30-year-old computer system that uses a 60-year-old computer language known as COBOL, common business-oriented language.

The computer language is so outdated agencies now have to bring people out of retirement to help program changes. Though COBOL generally isn’t taught in schools anymore, Janlopnsky said EDD did have an in-house COBOL training program.

“When I was a coder there, we had 150 coders,” Jablonsky said. “And by the time I left as CIO, we probably had 20 or less.”

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The agency is now planning to modernize its systems, but that’s still years away. Meanwhile, every time lawmakers extend or change benefits, it can require weeks of manual coding, complicated by lots of past piece-milled code changes and workarounds.

“The industry refers to that a spaghetti code,” Jablonsky said. “You can intend to make legitimate changes in one section and unintentionally break things in the other sections.”

Because the EDD has three separate systems, coding changes and testing often have to be manually repeated for each system.

Jablonsky says any change can break something else, so testing is crucial and time-consuming.

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But, the EDD has made improvements since the last recession, including automated testing.

Additionally, California is reportedly moving faster than other states. For instance, they rolled out the first round of CARES Act changes in about a week, getting the $600 to people already collecting unemployment. They plan to have the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance ready next week.

It’s help that can’t come soon enough for millions, like Danielle.

“It’s financially devastating,” she said.

As for the delayed payments and other errors we’ve been reporting on, the EDD has said it doesn’t believe computer problems are to blame.


Follow our continuing coverage as CBS13 works to get answers to your Coronavirus Unemployment Questions: 

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Julie Watts