Department of Labor and Industrial Relations Director Anne Perreira-Eustaquio says her office is working as quickly as it can to distribute benefits for unemployed Hawaii workers, including new money approved last month under the second CARES Act, but part of the challenge is old technology: the DLIR is working off a mainframe designed in the 1980s.
“I can’t express how much more difficult this is than people understand,” she told Spotlight Hawaii this morning.
“We’re dealing with a mainframe that is extremely antiquated, that has been touched many times now in the last nine months, and it’s fragile. And we’re extremely concerned that this mainframe is going to crash. Now, if this mainframe crashes, nobody gets paid.”
Perreira-Eustaquio said that each new benefits program from the federal government has meant that her office has had to adjust the system, which is risky. As a result, she and her team are “deliberately cautious” as they add the new information, which has led to a delay in payments.
“I know it’s extremely frustrating, but I cannot afford for this mainframe not to be here and everything become manual,” she explained.
Perreira-Eustaquio said that her office is working to secure state approval of a contract to replace the mainframe and modernize the system. Once that is greenlighted, it would still take the contractor up to 18 months to transfer information from the existing system and stand up a new one.
“It’s not something that will come up tomorrow. But it’s something that we’ve been working on these past several months to move forward and modernize,” she said.
The DLIR Director said her office has appealed to Hawaii’s congressional delegation to simplify future benefits, so that her office does not have to reprogram the mainframe for each financial extension. She said that would mean laid off workers would get paid much faster. She also provided a detailed explanation of the range of benefits available to unemployed residents, and said that her office is hiring more people to man the department’s call center.
“I can assure you, we’re doing the best we possibly can. We will continue to do the best we possibly can, and we will continue to try and get those programs out as fast as we possibly can,” she said.
Spotlight Hawaii, which shines a light on issues affecting Hawaii, airs live 10:30 a.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday on the Honolulu Star-Advertiser’s Facebook page. Join Ryan Kalei Tsuji and Yunji de Nies this month for a conversation with guests. Click here to watch previous conversations.