The pandemic has thrown millions out of work and created massive problems at California’s Employment Development Department (EDD), the agency empowered to provide Unemployment Insurance (UI) to laid-off workers.
Between March and May, EDD experienced a 3400% increase in claims compared to January/February. From March 8 to July 18, EDD processed 8.7 million claims, including 6.8 million standard UI claims and 1.4 million Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) claims. The agency has paid out a total of $49.7 billion in benefits, and reports that 94% of requests for assistance have been approved.
These numbers are impressive, but mask huge problems. The state’s 120 legislative offices often become the last resort for people unable to contact EDD or to get anything resembling a timely response to repeated emails, phone calls and faxes. EDD receives about 700 cases weekly from legislative offices, and even though the number of staff dedicated to handling these requests increased from 1 to 93, it can still take a month or more to get a reply to our inquiries. This is unacceptable.
Recently, the Governor announced a series of actions aimed at transforming EDD, modernizing technology and improving communications to ensure EDD prioritizes the oldest claims so that badly needed UI benefits get to unemployed Californians who still must pay their bills.
I have long called for modernization and improved technology in state agencies. And based on our experience dealing with just under 1000 EDD inquiries from constituents since mid-March, my office has been working as a liaison from our whole caucus to EDD and the Department of Labor to seek solutions that result in faster responses and fewer glitches.
California’s workers are hurting and EDD has not been up to the challenge. This must change, now!