SAN FRANCISCO -- As California begins to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic, the state's Employment Development Department is seeing no shortage of unemployment claims, even as the $600 increased federal unemployment benefit is scheduled to expire at the end of July.
MAP: Here's the reopening status of every Southern California county
In the last four months, the department has processed more than seven million unemployment claims.
"The volume continues to be quite high," said Loree Levy, spokesperson for the EDD.
Levy spoke to ABC7's sister station in the Bay Area Thursday about Californians' ongoing concerns with receiving unemployment benefits during the pandemic. One of the top concerns - the department's phone lines.
Calling the EDD & wait times
If you're struggling to get a hold of an EDD representative, you are not alone.
As for the keys to getting through to an actual person, Levy said it takes a combination of things.
The EDD offers several services online. Levy said in most cases, people don't have to talk to a representative.
She encourages claimants to take advantage of the self-service assistance.
The department has also brought on board new employees to help alleviate what Levy called the "avalanche of demand" that hit the EDD during the pandemic.
With more staffing in the department and claimants using the self-service tools, Levy said that should help with the call times and struggles getting through to a representative.
"We don't want to see people frustrated trying to get through to the call centers," Levy said.
As for the best time to get a hold of an EDD agent, Levy encouraged Californians to call during off peak hours, either early mornings or later in the evenings. The department has phone lines open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., she said.
She reiterated the demand right now is "off the charts."
$600 unemployment benefit extension?
If you're one of the many Americans receiving the additional $600 under the federal CARES act put in place during the pandemic, you're probably aware of the July 25 expiration date.
Levy said that additional payment is set to end July 25, unless Congress comes through with an extension or new program.
"That money comes to us from the federal government," she said.
Claimants can expect to receive their normal weekly benefit, without the additional $600, after the week of July 25.
"We're watching what happens in Congress very closely," Levy said.
She, however, teased a press release next week with more information.
At this point, there is no extension past the July 25 end date.
Extension of regular benefits
If you've run out of regular unemployment benefits, meaning you've certified for the maximum 26 weeks in a 12-month period - you're eligible for the PEUC 13-week extension.
If you've used those benefits as well, California is offering the FED-ED extension, which would provide up to 20 weeks of additional benefits.
There is no waiting period for FED-ED and claimants can expect to be automatically enrolled in the program if they've used their regular benefits and PEUC benefits.
Levy also clarified that claimants will also be automatically enrolled for PEUC benefits only if they still have an active claim, which would have to be within the 12-month period of their original claim.
If someone's claim expired between July 2019 and May 23, 2020, they would have to reapply.
Watch the full interview with the EDD spokesperson above.