Faced with a flood of complaints from lawmakers and out-of-work Californians over delays in processing unemployment claims, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday announced plans to address the backlog and update the state’s unemployment agency’s antiquated technology.
Newsom said the Employment Development Department is actively processing all pending claims and anticipates eliminating a backlog by the end of September, but he has directed them to streamline communications with applicants to hurry the process along.
“To assist with addressing the almost 1 million claims that may be eligible for payment with additional information, EDD will initiate immediate and weekly reminders to claimants to certify their claim,” the governor’s office said in a news release.
The department will also update its automated call center response system to route callers to specialized representatives.
Since the pandemic began, callers have complained about the call center’s limited hours, operating from 8 a.m. until noon, and many said they’ve repeatedly gotten recorded messages saying the system is overwhelmed before they get disconnected.
“There should be no barriers between Californians and the benefits they have earned,” Newsom said in a statement Wednesday. “Unprecedented demand due to job loss during this pandemic paired with an antiquated system have created an unacceptable backlog of claims. Californians deserve better, and these reform efforts aim to move the Department in that direction.”
Newsom on Wednesday also announced a “strike team” tasked with “reimagining” the EDD’s technology systems. They have 45 days to deliver a roadmap of recommendations and solutions.
EDD has processed more than 8 million unemployment insurance claims and distributed more than $49 billion in benefits since March, according to the governor’s office.
The department has redirected and hired thousands of additional staff to help field calls and process applications since the pandemic forced closures and triggered mass layoffs, but many say the problems have persisted for months.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson expressed skepticism of the governor’s plan, releasing this statement:
“Governor Newsom has become notorious for his words – not his actions,” Patterson said. “It’s our responsibility in the Legislature to not only hold the EDD accountable, but the Governor as well. I will continue to do both on behalf of the people of California.”
Last week, two state senators, Sen. Scott Wilk and Sen. Melissa Hurtado, asked Newsom to order the unemployment agency to keep its phone lines open at all times to deal with the delay in claim processing amid the pandemic.
They said their offices have each been dealing with a flood of reports from hundreds of residents who say they couldn’t get EDD representatives on the phone, or say they’ve had their claims not processed for months or even accidentally dropped without being reinstated.