The Idaho Department of Labor is looking to spend millions in state and federal dollars to replace a computer system running on software that’s more than two decades old.
“Ancient, antiquated, obsolete – whatever word you want to use,” said John McAllister, the Idaho Department of Labor’s chief deputy director. “It’s hard for us to keep it running these days.”
The computer system handles unemployment insurance benefits for workers and taxes for companies.
The department received approval Dec. 20 from the Board of Examiners to spend $2 million out of one of its dedicated funds to start upgrading the system, and could get $18 million in a federal grant. The U.S. Department of Labor is looking to assist the state labor departments in Arizona, Wyoming, Idaho, and North Dakota in beefing up their computer systems, which could cost $65 million
“We feel a potential crisis in our benefit payment system,” Labor Department Director Roger Madsen told the board. Jobless Idahoans have received more than $600 million in unemployment payments this year, which is less than in 2009 but the second highest total in state history.
Upgrades to the computer system could have come in handy this month. Labor department employees had to reprogram the system to allow for payments to people who lost federal extended unemployment benefits. Those benefits expired in early December, but action by Congress brought back the benefits for the next 13 months.
The Labor Department tweeted on Dec. 18 that Madsen asked employees to work overtime to make sure the system was updated.
McAllister said the new system would be more flexible if Congress comes up with new ideas for unemployment benefits in the future. He also said that, over the long term, the system would save the state money.
The $2 million the Board of Examiners approved for the project comes from the penalty and interest fund, which the Department of Labor collects from workers employers who are late paying taxes or try to evade the taxes.
The board also approved the department’s request for $200,000 from the penalties and interest fund to pay its employees’ wages during the next budget year, and up to $59,500 to replace windows in an office in Pocatello. The fund had a $4 million balance at the end of October.