Money is available for a 20-week extension of unemployment benefits in South Carolina, but the state Employment Security Commission can't make the payments.
The commission's antiquated computer system isn't set up to allow payments to jobless workers who have been unemployed for more than 79 weeks, said Jimmy Jones, ESC assistant deputy executive director.
But S.C. jobless workers now get checks for up to 99 weeks since President Barack Obama approved new unemployment benefits extension last month.
"It could be two weeks" before the programming is completed and payments could be made, Jones said. "That would be a bare minimum. It could be longer."
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The 23-year-old system is "not designed to make payments that easily" and has to be programmed to allow the payments, he said.
The agency can't go outside to get experts to work on the system because it is so old and in-house staffers understand how it works, he said.
And there's no way the agency can contract with either the U.S. Department of Labor or other agencies to make the payments faster, Jones said.
"There's no shortcut," he said. "You can't go back after the fact and account for the money. You have to track it from the beginning."
When told the benefits extension payments were delayed because of computer programming problems, Andy Trotter, a Greenville father who has been out of work for 22 months, said, "What am I supposed to tell the people who call me about bills?"
A more permanent solution to the commission's computer problems appears to be years away as South Carolina is working with three other states on a new shared system.
The issue of the agency's computer system initially came up in January when Gov. Mark Sanford and the state Department of Commerce wanted information about unemployment claims and jobs that the ESC said its computers couldn't produce without significant programming that could take up to six months to complete.
Jones said the agency sent officials to Virginia to check out their computer system because it was one that provided information similar to what Sanford was requesting. But the real problem was the governor requested data ESC didn't compile and track.
Currently, South Carolina is a member of a four-state consortium that is working to determine the feasibility of designing a system that could be used by all four states, he said.
The feasibility study, expected to take 18 months to two years, will kick off next month and be funded with a $10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor.
Once the study is completed, the consortium of the Carolinas, Georgia and Tennessee will seek another grant to build the system, he said. That could easily be in the range of $50 million and also would be funded by the Labor Department.
For the jobless, like Trotter, they just want to get their checks.
In the meantime, Trotter, who worked in retail when he was laid off and has a manufacturing background, continues his job search.
He's working with Vocation Rehabilitation, an agency that is recommending him for jobs. He's networking within his church and put out a radio resume.
"My faith in God is getting me through this," he said.