State labor officials announced via a press release this week that they’ve signed a contract to replace the notorious 1980s-era mainframe that’s helped delay unemployment insurance payments to thousands of struggling jobless residents in Hawaii.

However, transitioning from the antiquated mainframe to a modern web-based platform is expected to take as long as 18 months, Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio told Civil Beat during an interview.

That means it likely won’t be done in time to resolve the current, unprecedented wave of UI claims, which has overwhelmed the agency and left many claimants desperate for payment to stay afloat.

DLIR signed the $3.7 million contract last week with Idaho-based company Solid State Operations to overhaul the state’s antiquated UI system, according to Perreira-Eustaquio. The state agency was poised to start the UI modernization last year through a separate partnership with Idaho’s state labor department, but the COVID-19 pandemic struck months before it was set to begin.

A diagram presented by DLIR to the Legislature early in the pandemic showed how the agency was creating separate portals to work outside of the mainframe as much as possible. Screenshot

DLIR did create separate web portals after the pandemic hit, but those portals must still interface with the mainframe, officials said.

Now, programmers with the agency must delicately work with fragile, Reagan-era technology and avoid crashes as they try to implement complex payment programs. The programming reflects the rules negotiated in recent federal COVID-19 relief packages.

The troubles with the mainframe programming have delayed DLIR from disbursing payments under the latest Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation program, or PEUC, which Congress approved in late December. Perreira-Eustaquio said she’s not sure yet when those payments will start to go out.

Volunteer Examiners Lost In The Shuffle

The state labor agency has also struggled to staff a sufficient number of trained adjudicators to keep pace with all of the complex issues that have arisen amid the pandemic.

Last week, Perreira-Eustaquio told Civil Beat that the 20 or so local attorneys who regularly volunteered to help DLIR resolve complex claims late last year were gone because they “pretty much burned out.”

One of those volunteer attorneys, Yvonne Geesey, subsequently said she was “astonished” to read that.

DLIR Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio on volunteer burnout comments: “If that’s the way it came across, it was wrong on my part.” Ige administration

“None of the volunteer attorneys I spoke to reported being ‘burned out,’” Geesey said in an emailed statement. “I worried about the state workers being burned out, but I didn’t hear any complaining from them either.”

Instead, Geesey said, DLIR staff told volunteer attorneys in late December to stop reporting to the Hawaii Convention Center for work. DLIR expected to shut down operations there when federal CARES money expired and there wouldn’t be room for the volunteers, she was told.

The volunteer attorneys were never summoned back to help, even though DLIR wound up staying at the convention center when federal funding was extended.

“If that’s the way it came across, it was wrong on my part, Perreira-Eustaquio said Tuesday of her burnout comments. “We truly appreciate everything they’ve done for us. They went over and above.”

Perreira-Eustaquio said that DLIR had discussed having the pro-bono attorneys work as claims examiners from home.

Now, Perreira-Eustaquio is putting out a call for those volunteer attorneys to return to help if they can. DLIR needs all the claims examiners it can get, she said.

“I would love for the attorneys to come back if they could,” she said Tuesday. “They’re already trained. They know the process. They have the background, and we wouldn’t have to bring them into the convention center.”

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