Coronavirus: Despite bulking up staff, EDD still drowning in unemployment claims

Although more than 5 million claims have been processed during the pandemic, many say they are still having trouble receiving benefits.
As California's unemployment soars to historic highs, the Employment Development Department is under the magnifying glass.

Although it's processed more than five million claims during the coronavirus pandemic, many say they are still having trouble receiving benefits or even getting through for help like Anaheim resident Leticia Joyner. She lost her job as a charter bus driver and has been without a job for two months now.

"I'm worried about how I'm gonna keep a roof over my head, how I'm gonna keep my lights on, how I'm gonna eat every single day, and it's very very stressful," Joyner said.

The only help she's received is her federal stimulus check.

"I have to hold onto to that to try to make sure I'm able to eat or make sure that I can at least try to keep my phone on so maybe a family member can try to keep in contact with me just to make sure I'm alive out here," she said.

Joyner is one of many who have told us about their negative experiences with the EDD with someone even writing "operationally the EDD is equivalent to driving across the country on a skateboard."

"We're two months into this, right? I mean it isn't like it just happened two days ago or three days ago. Two months!" said Assemblyman Tom Lackey, who was one of five lawmakers that grilled the EDD Thursday on its response to the crisis. He represents the Antelope Valley, where he's received hundreds of calls from constituents.

"It's just so frustrating when people are in such a destitute circumstance and it appears as though they're just getting blown off," he said.

We brought these concerns to the EDD, yet again after the Labor Department assured us a month ago that they were solving the issue by hiring more staff. We asked EDD spokesperson Loree Levy if all of these new employees can even actually help with individual claims.

"Well, you know we would need thousands and thousands of staff readily available right now if we could handle millions and millions of calls and the math doesn't really equate that way," she said.

Even though they've redirected 1,300 people within the EDD and other state departments to help and hired about 500 vendor staff, it still isn't enough, which is why they say they're in the process of hiring an additional 1,800 employees.

"Our whole approach here is to be triaging, so we get the services out there and then we have to refine as we go. We're building the plane in mid-air so to speak," Levy said.

She says hundreds of state workers are volunteering their time this holiday weekend to come in and process more claims.

"We are not heartless people. These are our friends, our neighbors, our families impacted as well. That's why all of us are working around the clock. We're talking very little sleep, seven days a week because this is extremely important for us," she said.

For those who do end up waiting longer than normal, she assures them no one will be shorted any of the funds that they're eligible to receive.

While many did have to wait, there are plenty of applicants who received benefits with no problems. One person told us "it was super easy. Applied, about week later had everything I needed."

That's why the EDD wants to remind applicants to double check that everything is correct before submitting. Any little mistake can cost you weeks of processing while an employee does it by hand.

COVID downturn: California's unemployment rate soared to 15.5% in April, 2.3 million jobs lost
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California's unemployment rate soared to 15.5% in April as the nation's most populous state lost 2.3 million jobs because of the coronavirus pandemic.

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