ICYMI: Los Angeles Times: "California unemployment agency workers say internal problems are stalling claims process"

By Patrick McGreevy Staff Writer
August 3, 2020

SACRAMENTO — As California grapples with a deluge of requests for unemployment benefits amid the COVID-19 pandemic, some state workers processing claims say they are buckling under pressure, hampered by outdated technology, bureaucratic red tape and a shortage of trained, experienced staff.

The state Employment Development Department is so overwhelmed that Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged last week that nearly 1 million unpaid claims may be eligible for payment but require more information, with estimates that the backlog won’t be eliminated until the end of September. ….

In interviews with The Times and testimony during a legislative hearing last week, current and former EDD workers say they have been hindered in assisting those who have lost jobs. Some EDD workers are so frustrated with the process that they have quit.

Laura Stewart, who has worked for the state for almost 25 years … was among the state workers transferred to the EDD in a bid by the agency to address its ongoing issues. …

Stewart underwent training that was conducted completely online …  was given an 800-page instruction manual that contained numerous possible scenarios for unemployment claims and said she was left to fend for herself. …

In some cases, claims stalled because of a small error. One person filing a claim with the correct date of birth saw their claim stall when the date was somehow changed after it arrived at the EDD.

Stewart said that whenever she needed help, supervisors were unable to pull up claims she had on the screen of her state-issued computer at her Sacramento-area home. … 

“I know I’m part of the problem because I don’t know what I am doing,” Stewart said. “I really feel bad for anyone trying to deal with EDD — particularly if they obviously do qualify for unemployment funds. The system is so inefficient on so many levels.”

As a result, Stewart decided to quit late last month after nine weeks at the EDD and said she plans to go to another state agency where things are less dysfunctional.

“I just got so frustrated with their technology, their antiquated systems they are trying to use, and the whole training program that was ridiculous,” Stewart said. ….

The EDD currently has a four- to six-week wait time for workers to call back customers with problems, according to agency officials.

… Some EDD workers are so frustrated that they have advised callers to seek help elsewhere.

“Constituents have called the EDD helpline and were told that they should call their elected officials to help with their claims,” Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) complained to EDD Director Sharon Hilliard during the hearing.

The director [Sharon Hilliard] acknowledged last week that the EDD was unprepared for the unprecedented 9.3 million claims from people who lost jobs or work hours since the pandemic began in March, more than double the number of claims filed during the worst year of the Great Recession.

… many unemployed Californians say they have had to make hundreds of calls a day to the EDD before someone answers, only to be told they can’t be helped. … .

Click here to read the article published in the Los Angeles Times.