US Labor Dept. releases funds to improve state unemployment IT systems

Last week, the US Labor Department announced $9.6 million to improve unemployment insurance information technology systems. According to the Labor Dept., the money is designed to help states solidify IT security and contingency plans for their unemployment insurance (UI) systems.

Towards the end of 2009 and during the first part of 2010, CivSource reported that Congressional extensions on assistance benefits, like food stamps and unemployment insurance, were causing havoc with state computer systems, nationwide. The economic downturn has led to record numbers of claims, meanwhile many state computer systems designed to automate delivery of such benefits are antiquated and hard to update.

From Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Massachusetts to Ohio, Nevada, and California, media reports were flying about delays in benefits extensions, leaving millions of unemployed without money. Perhaps most notorious, because of the sheer number of people affected, California’s jobless system had received over $120 million in the last 8 years to update its 23-year-old computer system. And yet, 250,000 unemployed Californians went without benefits for weeks after Congress extended the state-operated program.

Interestingly, none of the above states were included in this round of grants. Thirty states received money through this round of funding. The department said it is the sixth year that such grants have been made available.

The $9.6 million in grants from the Labor Dept. is intended to bulk up the states’ UI security, helping them achieve National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) security certification and accreditation, Labor officials said.

“Data security improvements implemented with the help of these funds will strengthen the integrity of our state unemployment insurance systems,” Assistant Secretary of Labor for Employment and Training Jane Oates, said in a statement. “Tax-paying workers and employers expect states to continuously improve the performance of their UI systems, and these funds will help ensure that those improvements take place.”

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