State lawmakers to hire staff to handle EDD calls as claims logjam persists – Daily News

on Jul8
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The state Legislature has authorized Assembly members to hire new staffers to handle a flood of requests from California workers struggling to receive unemployment benefits in the wake of coronavirus-linked business shutdowns.

The state Employment Development Department has struggled in its attempts to keep up with a tsunami of initial and ongoing unemployment claims filed by workers statewide ever since businesses began closing in March 2020.

Now, all 80 members of the state Assembly have been authorized to hire new staffers to better handle the claims.

“Each Assembly office can hire two temporary workers to work on EDD cases, for a maximum time of four months,” according to the office of state Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins (D-San Diego). “Their salaries are paid out of existing operating funds.”

State Assemblymember Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), a harsh critic of the EDD, pointed out in emailed comments that the authorization does offer some encouragement for California’s beleaguered workforce.

“The good news is legislative offices are going to get extra help so we can serve more people who have still not been paid what they are owed,”  Patterson said. “Many of these people have already gone back to work and are trying to recoup funds that EDD never paid them.”

“The bad news is, there are still thousands of people who can’t get through to the EDD and have no choice but to call a legislative office,” Patterson said.

All of this is happening as the EDD’s dashboard continues to document a backup of jobless claims that remains above 1 million.

“EDD continues to be a challenge,” state Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco) said in emailed comments. “Work is being done to reform the department and improve performance, but we still have a real backlog of Californians waiting to receive the benefits they are entitled to.”

Since the EDD started to track claims on its newest dashboard, the number has never been below 1 million, which covers a period of well over four months starting on Feb. 13 of 2021.

By two key measures compiled by the EDD, the backlogs to pay or otherwise resolve unemployment claims have trended upward.

On June 26, the overall logjam totaled 1.12 million. That compares with the lowest number for this official EDD metric, a backlog of 1.02 million reported by the department on April 10.

To help combat the backlog, state Assemblymember Marie Waldron, a Republican who represents portions of San Diego County and Riverside County, has introduced AB 24, legislation that would impose deadlines on the EDD to ensure unemployed Californians receive information on a timely basis from the embattled labor agency regarding the resolution of their claims.

“Too many people are left without any information or decision about their claims and have waited months in vain,” said Waldron, who is the GOP leader in the state Assembly. “People need help when they lose their jobs and the government needs to be more responsive. A backlog of this size is unacceptable.”

The overall backlog is derived from two numbers in the dashboard:

  • Claims for jobless benefits that required more than 21 days for the EDD to approve or reject totaled 217,054 on June 26. That number is 95% higher than the lowest number for this metric recorded April 10.
  • Claims that are in limbo until the applicant can successfully certify his or her unemployment claim totaled 900,573, up 2.7% from the low point recorded on Feb. 13.

In April 2020, Gov. Gavin Newsom appeared at a news conference to vow that 550 workers would be shifted from existing state jobs to cope with the jump in filings and inquiries to the EDD’s broken call center.

In February 2021, EDD director Rita Saenz, whom Newsom appointed in 2020 to solve the mess at the state agency, said that the department had begun to hire 900 workers to help.

In May 2021, the EDD said that it had increased its staffing to 5,600. The EDD hasn’t said whether the 550 workers promised by the governor or the 900 promised by Saenz were part of this larger number.

Despite all of this hiring and EDD attempts to bolster the broken call center, the vast majority of calls go unanswered.

During the week that ended on June 26, the EDD phone center received 3.03 million calls, of which the state agency’s staffers answered 242,200 calls — 8.8%.

“There are no real winners here,” Patterson said.

Heidi Montoya, a Santa Cruz resident, wrote a letter to Newsom detailing how she has been without unemployment benefits for the last three months, getting no help from his administration or the EDD.

“I watch as President Biden and you, our governor, forge ahead as if the economy has recovered and the pandemic is in the rear window,” Montoya wrote. “The pandemic still exists and there are over a million of us still without our EDD payments.”

Montoya pointed out that a state surplus in the billions doesn’t appear to be headed toward jobless California workers who are trapped in the EDD’s limbo.

“You’ve left us hanging for months,” Montoya wrote. “Please give us a life jacket while we continue to wait for California to recover.”

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