Above the Fold 04.13.09

SSA official has words for Govs…Florida computer in charge of jobless benefits to file for unemployment…Iowa politicos dig Twitter…Health and Justice systems hacked in Oregon…Who’s richer: public or private sector employees?…States shrink safety net in the laundry…Illegals caught driving without license…Bayou subcontractors given the 3rd degree…

“The states’ response is completely illogical,” Michael J. Astrue, the commissioner of Social Security, said Sunday. “Governors are hurting their own states, their own citizens, and increasing the backlog of claims” by furloughing workers who make disability decisions, the New York Times reported.

The Orlando Sentinel reported over the weekend that the state of Florida’s mainframe computer in charge of jobless benefits is “well beyond its useful life and at an ever increasing risk of failure.” The system is responsible for $2.2 billion in unemployment payments, and increasing along with the state’s 9.4 percent jobless rate. In a tech consult last summer, IBM called the system “too inflexible, too fragile, and too expensive” to save. This story comes on the heels of a USA Today report that CivSource touched on last week where some $500 million in stimulus aid is being set aside for overwhelmed computer systems and phone lines at state unemployment offices. Florida legislators have put in for $2.2 million for a new system, from the stimulus package, but even if they get approval a new system is two or three years away, the Sentinel reported.

The Cedar Rapids Gazette is reporting that lawmakers in Des Moines are being switched on to social networking tools like Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. “I use it all the time,” she said. “It’s one of my favorite things to do,” says Representative Renee Schulte, a Republican from Cedar Rapids. State legislators interviewed in the story say they’ll be implementing social networking into their re-election campaigns and anyone who isn’t will be behind the curve.

Hackers broke into the Department of Human Services computer system in Oregon last week, the Portland Oregonian reported this weekend. The state health agency says there’s no indication that personal records have been affected, but the Department of Justice, who uses the same network, is still investigating.

Last week new figures were released by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) indicating that the gap between public and private employees’ pay was widening, mostly due to benefits. Public employee benefits were worth an average of $13.38 per hour in December in 2008, meanwhile private sector workers got $7.98 an hour. USA Today interviewed Illinois State Senator Chris Lauzen, R-Aurora, who claimed, “People will become angrier and angrier when they learn the difference between their pay and benefits and what we give to public employees.” But at least for one state, national trends for public employee compensation don’t apply. The Lansing State Journal reported this weekend that Michigan state employees are keeping pace or falling behind pubic sector pay. The state is embroiled over a fight to cut state worker salaries by 5 percent.

The Center for Budget and Policy Priorities has released a report finding that thirty four states are cutting expenditures for social services, the New York Times reported Sunday. Federal money meant to provide money for education and unemployment insurance, food stamps and tax credits for low income earners will only offset 40 percent of the cuts that have already been made, the report says. Most advocacy groups are worried about long-term affects, resulting from these short-term cuts. “There’s no question that we’re getting short-term savings that will result in greater long-term human and financial costs,” said Linda J. Blessing, interim chief of the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

The Maryland legislature may have to come back for a special session if a compromise is not made on driver’s licenses for illegal immigrants, the Washington Post reports. The Real ID law mandates that states issuing driver’s licenses prove they are in the country legally. State’s have until the end of this year to comply with Real ID, being enforced by the Department of Homeland Security. More than a dozen states have refused to comply with the law because it mandates the states pay for it. DHS has estimated it will cost $9.9 billion to implement the requirements of Real ID, with the states footing about $3.9 billion of that – so far, Congress has appropriated about $90 million to assist states with implementation, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The NCSL has petitioned for the government to drop all requirements to repeal Real ID and negotiate with states on a new approach. Oregon is facing a similar battle in their state house, as the Salem Statesman Journal reports.

The New Orleans Times-Picayune is recapping a story that’s played out during the last week involving Mayor Ray Nagin and his Chief Technology officer in 2004. The two city officials and their families were apparently given a trip to Hawaii by a mutal associate who had dealings with the city during this time. See CivSource’s “Granular Accountability” for more on this story and how Recovery Act transparency rules could affect the relationship between subcontractors and the government.

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