Coronavirus crisis: Jobless Californians express frustration over state unemployment agency

Complaints have mounted over what unemployed workers say is an unresponsive EDD system.
Many of California's newly jobless say they are becoming more fearful after hitting roadblocks due to the state's overwhelmed unemployment benefits system.

Gov. Gavin Newsom first addressed the issue at the beginning of the month. The state responded with some solutions, but it seems it still may not be enough.

"You know, a month out. I filed the day after I got laid off. It's like they don't even care," Moreno Valley resident Christine Bowen said with tears in her eyes. She's an accounts payable employee who filed for unemployment insurance a month ago. Although she's received documents in the mail, she hasn't received her checks and can't get a hold of anyone for help.

"You can't go to the EDD offices because they're closed, you cant get through the phone lines, you cant get through the internet, and then when you do, you email them and you hear nothing back," she said, referring to the Employment Development Department.

California Employment Development Department: File an unemployment insurance claim

Echo Park resident Jahad Carter was let go as a prep cook in early March. He was able to apply for benefits, but has had trouble finding out if the EDD debit card will ever arrive.

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"I just basically got on the phone with an actual person today for the first time in two weeks and like my whole call log is full of that number that I almost know by heart, the EDD BofA number," Carter said.

They join thousands of other applicants who feel left in the dark, even after assurance from Newsom and Labor Secretary Julie Su who -- for the past three weeks -- say they're doing everything in their power to fix an overwhelmed system.

A week ago, Su said they have redirected hundreds of EDD staff to focus on unemployment, are training an additional 300 state staff members to increase capacity, and are expanding call center hours to provide service seven days a week and for more hours each day. And on Monday, she spoke to Californians via Facebook live, marking the first day they had extended their hours to 12 hours a day.

"I need to own the things that we are not doing right. We need to fix those things, we need to make sure that we are accurate, that we are timely and that we are providing services, that we are accessible and we are transparent. I would also everybody to be very cautious when you are submitting your application, that all the information you've submitted is accurate. If it is not, that will cause a delay," said Su.

Still, for people like Bowen, actions speak louder than words.

"I have never felt this much fear. Because most things in your life you can come up with a plan and you can fix it. You can have some sort of control over it. There's no control over this. Like my finances, my mortgage, my car payment, my student loans, the food to feed my kids is in the hands of the EDD. And guess what, if they don't get this together, my kids aren't going to be able to eat," Bowen said.

Many are turning to a Facebook group called "Unofficial CA unemployment help" where people are sharing their experiences and realizing they're not alone.

ABC7 made multiple attempts to get a response from the EDD. In response, the agency said only that ABC7's question was received and officials were looking into the matter.
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