California’s Employment Development Department is making noticeable progress in attempting to dig out from an avalanche of jobless claims that buried the embattled labor agency amid coronavirus-linked business shutdowns, a state panel learned Wednesday.

Despite the progress that appears to have begun roughly 10 days after the EDD instituted a high-tech verification system to accurately process unemployment claims and thwart fraud, state Sen. Jerry Hill, who has been critical of the EDD, said the agency’s track record this year of handling jobless benefits isn’t up to par.

“Some Californians have had their benefits unfairly delayed or denied, which is unacceptable,” Hill said during a state legislative hearing Wednesday. “The people of California ask more of us.”

During the hearing before the state Senate Labor, Public Employment, and Retirement Committee, which was chaired by Hill, a Democrat whose district includes parts of San Mateo County and Santa Clara County, some witnesses pointed to key metrics that showed an improvement in the agency’s quest to process unemployment claims.

“The EDD’s digital transformation is indeed underway,” Carol Williams, EDD chief deputy director of operations, told the committee. “Following this process of improvement, which some call a roadmap, will lead to getting people their unemployment benefits as fast as possible.”

Nevertheless, committee members told of waves of phone calls from unemployed California workers who have deluged their offices, pleading for some sort of resolution of their claims.

“You can imagine how frustrated people are,” said Sen. Richard Pan, a Democrat whose district includes parts of Sacramento County and Yolo County. “People have to call the EDD over and over and over again and can’t get through.”

A growing number of California workers have turned to their state senators and assemblymembers because the EDD has failed to provide them with useful information or assistance regarding their jobless claims.

“Our district staff members each have received thousands of calls from the public since mid-March” regarding EDD problems, said Sen, Holly Mitchell, a committee member. Mitchell said she helped answer phones for two days, adding, “The stories, the frustrations, the fears that I witnessed first hand were really overwhelming.”

Some workers who filed for jobless benefits in mid-March have yet to receive their full unemployment benefits. As of Oct. 7, the backlog of claims that the EDD has been attempting to work through was roughly 1.34 million — a giant number, but considerably less than what it has been. As of Sept. 30, the backlog was about 1.56 million, according to official dashboards posted by the EDD.

That works out to a decrease of 14 percent in a week, this news organization’s analysis of the EDD’s dashboards shows.

“This hearing will be a vital and significant step in moving forward with policies and reforms that will ensure that EDD fulfills its mission of delivering unemployment insurance benefits in a timely and appropriate manner,” Hill said.




By Arlene Huff

Arlene Huff is the founding member of Golden State Online. Before that She was a general assignment reporter. A native Californian, she graduated from the University of California with a degree in medical anthropology and global health. She currently lives in Los Angeles.

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