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Computers Can't Cut Red Tape


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Errors lurk.

Modernizing technology is certainly a foundational piece that allows more nimbleness in times of crisis, said Michael Wisehart, director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security, adding, "in no way, shape or form was this system of laws and regulation prepared for this pandemic.

Credit: Rapapawn

As the United States shut down in the spring and tens of millions of people lost their jobs, Arizona modernized its 35-year-old computer system on the fly to get unemployment benefits into people's hands as fast as possible. This is government technology that is actually helping people.

To a point.

Arizona has also been a case study of the limits of technology in the teeth of a jobless crisis, government bureaucracy and people trying to game the system. States like Arizona have been plagued by old and underfunded technology systems, but policy choices and the scale of need are the big reasons people are having trouble getting financial help.

My colleague Ben Casselman recently wrote about Arizona rebuilding from scratch parts of its computer system that had struggled to handle unemployment claims. The new system partially replaced one developed in the 1980s using Sputnik-era computer programming software, said Michael Wisehart, the director of the Arizona Department of Economic Security.

That has allowed the state to pay within a few days a new $300 weekly supplemental unemployment insurance benefit, Wisehart said. It's easier for people to track the status of their claims, too. That is good news at a time when many Americans have struggled, sometimes for months, to receive jobless payments.

Even so, getting the government benefit in Arizona remains a slog.

 

From The New York Times
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