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Calif. unemployment backlog worst in U.S.?

August 11, 2009 12:00:00 AM PDT
Political finger-pointing may be costing thousands of out-of-work Californians who are trying to collect unemployment benefits. Appeals to collect those benefits are soaring, but the state's backlog of cases is among the worst in the nation. California is one of about three dozen states swamped with unemployment claims brought on by the recession.Thousands of people who are denied unemployment benefits usually appeal. But California has the third worst appeals backlog in the country. Korynne Currie lost her job over a year ago and is still waiting for her checks.

"The amount of time it takes from when you apply to when you get appointments, for them to actually get the decision out ... it's ridiculous. It takes so long," said Currie.

During this past fiscal year, which ended in June, there were more than 94,000 cases pending. Last year, in the early part of this recession, there were only 46,000 pending cases. When unemployment was low three to four years ago, the backlog was under 29,000.

"None of us were expecting the downturn in our economy, and all states were ill-prepared to deal with the millions of people that showed up at the unemployment offices, especially those that needed a second level of appeal," said Bonnie Garcia, California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board.

California recently hired 57 judges, bringing the total to 205. The chief judge told the state's unemployment insurance appeals board Tuesday that the hiring has already made a difference. They closed a record 2,000 cases last month and reduced the average time a case closes to 54 days. However, a judge says the furloughs ordered by Governor Schwarzenegger could reverse the trend.

"We had originally planned to try and reduce it to a manageable level of fewer than 30,000 open cases at any given time by 2010. That's been impacted negatively by the furloughs," said Alberto Roldan, Chief Administrative Law Judge.

Governor Schwarzenegger's office says the furloughs are a poor excuse and that the judges's union rules limiting their caseload is a major culprit behind the logjam.

"We don't think it's fair that a judge in such an important position should have rules saying they can only work so hard. We think they ought to work a little harder, hear more cases per week and knock out all this backlog of cases," said Aaron McLear, Governor's Press Secretary.

The chief judge says that while the July numbers look good, it's important to note that no one took furlough days last month. He also says it is conceivable that everyone will have to take them at the same time, as the fiscal year runs out.

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