Evolving and Accumulating Requirements, Example of

For example, consider the most basic issue of coverage: whether a given worker is eligible to claim unemployment benefits. According to the DOL, to answer that question you must figure out, among other things, whether the worker’s “employing unit” qualifies as an “employer.” Under the Federal Unemployment Tax Act, that term originally applied to “employing units” that, “during any calendar quarter in the current or immediately preceding calendar year, paid wages of $1,500 or more” and to “employing units of eight or more workers on at least one day in each of 20 different weeks in a calendar year.” In 1956, that threshold was changed to four or more workers; in 1972, it dropped to just one worker. Today, about half the states use this federal definition, but the others strike out on their own. In Montana, the minimum payroll to qualify as an employer is $1,000 in the current or preceding year; in New York, it’s $300 in a single quarter; in Iowa, any wages at all paid in the current or preceding quarter will qualify. In Massachusetts, thirteen weeks of payroll is enough to be an employer; in Arkansas, it’s having a single employee for ten or more days.

The unemployment department in any given state would have had to update its systems as the federal definition changed, as their own state definition changed, or as their labor agency switched back and forth between the federal and state definitions. Few updates succeed in catching all past references to the former rule, so you will find artifacts of previous regulations strewn throughout documentation and code. That’s probably how the EDD came to have work items for “Stop Payment Alert” and for “Stop Payment Alert—Claim Review” that mean two totally different things. Perhaps some law changed and programmers coded a new work item to fit the new rules, but the original one persisted, most likely because it was still attached to active claims. Everything accumulates.

Recoding America: Why Government Is Failing in the Digital Age and How We Can Do Better
Jennifer Pahlka