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Mass., Calif. benefit claim woes tied to same firm

The consulting firm responsible for Massachusetts’ troubled computer system for managing unemployment claims is also facing problems with a jobless benefits system in California.

Deloitte Consulting of New York rolled out a new unemployment benefits claims system for California on Labor Day, but three weeks later, about 80,000 claims are being paid late each day, officials said.

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Officials in California’s Employment Development Department said the backlog is affecting people who were previously collecting benefits, not people who filed new claims.

Joanne Goldstein, the Massachusetts Secretary of Labor and Workforce Development, said California’s situation did not appear to be the same as in Massachusetts.

“Based on what we have learned from recent press reports, it appears that the California experience is different from the launch here in Massachusetts,” Goldstein said.

Deloitte launched a system here on July 1 that was delivered behind its original schedule and $6 million over budget, and left hundreds of unemployed workers without some or all of their benefits. Goldstein has defended the system, saying it is not unusual to have bugs in new software and that problems have affected a relatively small number of people.

Deloitte’s $62.4 million contract with California was to improve the state’s system for people filing continuing unemployment claims. In California, claims must be filed every other week; in Massachusetts claims are filed weekly.

Patti Roberts, a spokeswoman for the California Employment Development Department said it has issued daily reports on its progress correcting the problems to the media and the governor. The state is sending notices to claimants to confirm it has received requests for benefits and assure them that officials are working to fix problems.

“The [Employment Development Department] sincerely apologizes for the hardship experienced for those with backlogged certifications for benefits,” the Monday report said.

Deloitte officials said in an e-mail that the backlog in California is the result of difficulties converting information from the old to the new system, requiring claims to be reviewed manually. “It is not a system error or the result of a problem with the software developed by Deloitte,” they said.

In Massachusetts, many jobless people seeking benefits were angry when they could not get payments and were forced to wait — sometimes for hours — on help lines flooded with callers. In some cases, the system billed people erroneously for thousands of dollars in alleged overpayments. One Lawrence man said he was mistakenly charged $45,339.

Ivys Maldonaldo of Woburn said she was so frustrated with the Massachusetts system she called state officials up to the governor’s office to complain. Maldonaldo said after the new system launched, her $674-a-week payment suddenly stopped, and when she tried to file online, a message said she had been “disqualified.”

She said she still has no idea what triggered the problems, which took several weeks to resolve. The experience was “horrible,” she said, adding that she was worried about how she would pay her grocery bills and mortgage.

Megan Woolhouse can be reached at mwoolhouse@globe.com.
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