Faulty websites confront needy in search of aid

While the nation’s attention was focused on the troubled rollout of the federal health care site under the Affordable Care Act, the problems with the unemployment sites have pointed to something much broader: how a lack of funding in many states and a shortage of information technology specialists in public service jobs routinely lead to higher costs, botched systems and infuriating technical problems that fall hardest on the poor, the jobless and the neediest.

As a result, the old stereotype of applicants standing in long lines to speak to surly civil servants at government unemployment offices is quickly being replaced. Now those seeking work or government assistance are often spending countless hours in front of buggy websites, then getting a busy signal when they try to get through by phone.

In October, food stamp recipients in 17 states were unable to use their electronic cards for a day because the computer system that runs the program failed. Over the years, similar problems with systems in Georgia, Massachusetts, Texas, Colorado and other states have prevented people from getting food stamps and Medicaid benefits.

The problems come at a time when state legislatures are increasingly demanding efficient methods for people to apply online for aid, from food stamps to unemployment benefits.