The following editorial by Senator Anthony M. Bucco (R-25) calling on Governor Phil Murphy to upgrade the broken State unemployment, motor vehicle, and vaccine scheduling computer systems was published by NJ.com on February 20, 2021:
For far too long, New Jersey has failed to invest in upgrading and modernizing some of its most critical computer systems. This past year made it clear we cannot delay these important projects any longer.
In this NJ.com editorial, Sen. Tony Bucco calls on Gov. Phil Murphy to upgrade the broken State unemployment, motor vehicle, and vaccine scheduling computer systems. (Pixabay)
It’s not just old systems that are broken. In recent weeks, a flood of people have told me the new COVID-19 vaccine scheduling system doesn’t work either.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, thousands of constituents have contacted my office for help after trying and failing on their own to get the services they deserve from the Division of Unemployment Insurance and the Motor Vehicle Commission.
Every single day since March, we’ve listened to heartbreaking stories of job losses and business closures, and of families that lost all of their income. Some were down to their last $100. Parents have struggled through tears to beg for help, not knowing how they would pay their mortgage or property tax bills or put food on the table.
They tried to file online for the unemployment benefits they earned, but the website froze, the phones were busy, or the payments they were told they qualified for never arrived. Many spent hours a day for weeks at a time trying to talk to a live person, only to be told to go online and try again once they finally got through. That, of course, didn’t work.
Thankfully, my office has succeeded in helping over 2,000 residents get the benefits they’re owed, but it hasn’t been quick or easy. We’ve struggled with many of the same challenges as our constituents trying to get through to someone at the Department of Labor. We keep grinding away on their behalf, but it shouldn’t be this hard for anyone.
Gov. Phil Murphy and Labor Commissioner Robert Asaro-Angelo first placed the blame on a sudden surge of claims that overwhelmed unemployment’s phones and website, a problem made worse by their closure of walk-in service centers last March.
Even now, nearly a year later, difficulties remain. The inflexibility of the old systems has proven to be a major factor that’s delayed payments, including extra benefits from the federal government.
The problem lies with systems developed decades ago in COBOL, a 60-year-old programming language more common during the Apollo era than the Internet era. There are few programmers left who understand this outdated language or the 40-year-old mainframes that run our unemployment system.
In the age of cloud computing, when businesses are accustomed to having the ability to quickly scale up capacity with a few mouse clicks to meet demand, our unemployment system should have the same capability.
Unfortunately, our old mainframes simply can’t do that, nor have they been flexible enough to quickly allow changes to begin paying the hundreds of dollars in weekly supplemental unemployment benefits made available through federal stimulus programs.
If we had a more modern system that was easier to update, those extra payments could have been delivered without weeks of unnecessary delays.
It’s not just unemployment that’s been hampered by outdated systems. Even before the pandemic, MVC computer outages were frequently reported events, with all-too-common stories of frustrated customers being sent home without their new license or registration after wasting a day off from work.
During the pandemic, the situation only got worse. People were forced to wait in overnight lines because the MVC was incapable of quickly digitizing many services that should have been online years ago.
While the MVC has made some progress in recent months implementing solutions we proposed — including scheduled appointments and expanded online registration and license renewals — their aging, creaky computers remain a major bottleneck.
Some of our newer websites need help, too, including the N.J. Vaccine Scheduling System, which has been a disorganized disaster for people trying to make an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination. There’s a lot of confusion created by a fragmented and unclear process, including double bookings and canceled appointments. We must do better.
Unfortunately, Governor Murphy hasn’t made replacing or fixing these broken systems a priority. Given the massive failures we’ve all witnessed, that’s completely unacceptable.
Try as he might, the governor can’t blame his inaction on a lack of money. He borrowed billions and got billions more from the CARES Act last year. Today, we have a budget surplus that’s grown by $1 billion, along with strong indications we’ll get another $6 billion in federal relief.
We’ll have the money, Governor Murphy just needs to have the will. There’s no excuse for more delays. He must prioritize fixing the broken State government computer systems that have consistently failed New Jerseyans.
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