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Rising unemployment swamps system

April 18, 2008 12:00:00 AM PDT
Longer lines at the unemployment office, and even longer waits on the phone to talk to someone at the state about jobless claims, are both consequences of a struggling economy that saw unemployment jump more than a full percent the last year."It's been kind of difficult to contact someone at the unemployment office. It's taken me over a week just to get through the phone system," said unemployed worker Jose Moreno.

And those delays mean unemployment checks could take longer to receive.

The California Employment Development Department is overwhelmed with the crush of people who are out of work, which is up 229,000 since last March. The federal government normally gives states extra money to handle the surge, but it won't be helping this time.

"Instead of getting more money, we're actually facing a $31 million cut," said Loree Levy of the CA Employment Development Department. "We really can't bring on a lot of additional people, because we're not sure how long we'd be able to pay them."

State leaders are frustrated California continues to get back fewer federal dollars than it gives.

"It's outrageous. There's no way that California can continue to subsidize the federal government," said Sen. President Don Perata, D-Oakland.

Meanwhile, the number of Californians contacting the state employment agency is up nearly 20 percent in the first quarter when compared to the same period last year, and there's little sign of it letting up.

The best the state can do right now is move staff from other areas of the Labor Department, re-hire retirees for just a few months, and allow employees to work overtime to help process claims faster.


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