If California wants to increase unemployment insurance benefits to help workers cope with the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the higher payments could be delayed up to a year because the state Employment Development Department's technology isn’t up to the task.

A new report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that the IT systems at the Employment Development Department (EDD), which administers unemployment benefits, are limited in what they can do.

“Due to the limitations of ... current information technology systems, changing (unemployment insurance) benefit levels — for instance, by increasing the maximum weekly benefit amount or setting a minimum weekly benefit floor — could take as long as a year to implement,” the analysts wrote.

EDD spokesperson Loree Levy said the agency has been working to update its current systems for some time.

“There are a number of different solutions the EDD is developing and implementing now to deal with the unprecedented claim demand and issue benefit payments,” she said.

“That includes streamlining the processing of claims wherever possible, staff working overtime seven days a week, redirecting hundreds of staff from throughout the department and elsewhere in the state with unemployment processing experience (including recent retirees), and of course hiring when we can,” Levy said. “Although it does take several months to get new staff trained on the complexity of the (unemployment) rules and regulations.”

The current maximum weekly state benefit is $450. The federal economic stimulus package due for a vote in Congress this week would provide extra unemployment benefits. State officials have not proposed higher California-funded benefits.

It’s unclear how the state’s technology limits could affect implementation of a change funded by Washington. The state’s benefit program is primarily financed by a tax on employers.

The legislative analysts said this week that while the department usually issues about 80 percent of first benefit payments within 21 days of receiving a worker’s application, it’s anticipated that the first benefits will now “take much longer.”

Levy said that “it always takes about three weeks to process a claim once received and issue benefit payments when someone is found eligible. For now, we are timely with payments due and are working on a number of strategies to maintain that as much as possible.

“But of course, at the same time the EDD is also trying to transition our workforce to teleworking as much as possible to abide by health guidelines and protect our staff. That certainly creates some challenges,” she said.