California EDD's delays threaten unemployment pay for thousands statewide

SAN FRANCISCO -- California's Employment Development Department has thrown another curveball to the state's unemployed.

As KGO-TV reported, the EDD suddenly shut down 1.4 million claims, trying to weed out fraud. The state gave everyone just 10 days to prove their identities - or lose their benefits. But that quickly overwhelmed the new identity verification system, causing some panic.

WATCH: Expert answers your EDD, unemployment questions
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Michele Evermore, an expert with the National Employment Law Project, answers questions from Eyewitness News viewers about getting unemployment benefits through California's EDD.

The good news is the EDD just decided to give folks 30 days instead of ten days to meet the deadline. However, it also means people would have to go without benefits for at least another month. It puts even more strain on folks already struggling in the pandemic.

KGO told you about Sarah Vain in Vallejo: "You know how long does it take to resolve this?" she said in an interview.

"How am I gonna make it through the rest of January - forget about February," said Jessica Choksey, a single mom in San Diego. Both lost their jobs in the pandemic and suddenly had to prove their identities or lose their unemployment benefits.

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The same thing happened to 1.4 million others, and they've swamped the state's new website -- causing massive delays and disconnections.

Christine Lamp, a laid-off catering employee, was among those buried in the onslaught.

"They've sent us to a broken system," she said. "I started at 5 a.m. this morning trying to get through."

Lamp kept uploading her passport and Social Security card but the website wouldn't accept them. She'd have to wait for a live agent.

"I'm telling you it's blowing my mind. It still says more than five hours," she said of her wait time.

No matter how much time went by, she said, the system kept saying her wait was "more than five hours.''

She ended up staying on hold all day, and into the next day.

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"I have been waiting for 18, going on 18 hours now...," she said.

She says her wait time would tick down, only to jump back up again.

"I got to the ticker saying 18 minutes and I thought holy bejesus I'm almost in... then it bumped me back to more than five hours," she explained.

It's 10 o'clock at night... she's still on hold.

"I've been up since five a.m. I'm not even changed. I haven't eaten today. I haven't gotten dressed. I haven't brushed my hair... It's like being held hostage for 17 hours," Lamp said.

"But I'm not gonna give up," she continued. "I can't. I can't give up. This is a matter of life and death for me. It's a matter of, you know, eating. I'm going to food banks. I'm going to food banks! I used to make $3,000 a month and now I'm going to food banks."

Clicking off now could mean no money later.

"They said they will deny benefits. They will cut us off. Cut us off in the pandemic. This is not reality," Lamp said. "I understand there's more fraud going on in California but please don't punish the hungry and the wounded."

More good and bad news: An agent finally did come online, but not until the next morning. Christine waited 25 hours in all. Her identification was finally verified. But she still has to wait up to six weeks for her benefits. KGO has reached out to the EDD for comment.
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