Unemployment benefits delayed this week for more than 12,000 Tennesseans due to a computer outage should be restored next week if, as expected, computer network service for the state labor agency is restored this weekend, officials said Thursday.
The Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development had to suspend processing jobless claims and posting job listings this week after its website, Jobs4TN.gov, shut down Sunday due to a potential cyberattack against the state's computer software vendor, Geographic Solutions Inc.
Paul Toomey, president of the Palm Harbor, Florida-based Geographic Solutions, said he expects his company will be able to restore computer service over the July Fourth weekend to allow the Tennessee's employment agency to resume claims and benefit processing next week.
"We recently identified anomalous activity on our network and immediately took the Jobs4TN system offline to halt the activity," Toomey said in a statement released Thursday. "Our current focus is working around the clock to bring Jobs4TN back online. We anticipate that this will occur prior to the July Fourth holiday."
Tennessee notified those receiving unemployment benefits and employers seeking to process new layoffs about the computer network outage Sunday, but the state has been unable to process claims or provide access to job listings on its website throughout the week, jeopardizing weekly benefits for those unemployed and looking for other jobs.
Most of the unemployed workers still looking for work would be eligible to receive up to $275 in weekly unemployment benefit checks. But those payments totaling up to $3 million for many struggling Tennessee workers across the state have now been delayed, probably until the middle of next week.
"If the system is operational on Saturday, claimants would be able to certify for the week ending June 25, and then they would start certifying Sunday for the week ending July 2," Chris Cannon, chief communications officer for the state labor department, said in an email Thursday. "They would receive their payments Wednesday or Thursday, because of the holiday on Monday."
If the computer outage is not fixed until after the weekend, Cannon said a claimant would be able to certify their eligibility once the system is back online and receive their payment for both this week and next within 48 hours of the filing, Cannon said.
Toomey said Geographic Solutions has employed outside specialists to determine the cause and scope of the cyberattack.
"That investigation is still ongoing, and we are taking steps to help prevent this from happening again," Toomey said.
Cannon said the latest information from Geographic Solutions indicates no personal data was accessed and no data was removed from its network operations center.
But the head of a key legislative committee that funds the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development - Senate Commerce and Labor Committee Chairman Paul Bailey (R-Sparta) - said the state labor agency should have had a better backup plan to avoid this week's outage.
In a statement earlier this week, Bailey called the computer network shutdown "a failure" of the labor agency.
"There is absolutely no excuse anymore," Bailey said. "The General Assembly provided funds to update the department's antiquated system, and every measure should be taken to streamline this move."
Michele Johnson, co-founder and executive director of the Tennessee Justice Center in Nashville, said this week's delay in paying jobless benefits in Tennessee "is yet another example of this state failing middle class and poor Tennesseans.
"Life expectancy continues to go in the wrong direction because of leadership failures like this that prevent regular Tennesseans from thriving," she said.
Tennessee is among three dozen states that use Geographic Solutions for employment claims and information systems. Other states have also reported their job search websites are shut down this week because of the cyberattack.
Monica Vereen, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Department of Labor, said Friday that the computer outage is currently affecting claims processing activities in at least five states - Arizona, Louisiana, Nebraska, Nevada and Tennessee.