Since Newsom’s shelter-in-place order in mid-March, the state’s unemployment rate has soared from 2.0% to 17.3%. Over 6.7 million people have sought unemployment benefits — more than the first two years of the Great Recession.
To keep up with an avalanche of jobless claims, Newsom on April 15 announced the Employment Development Department would open its phone lines from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, up from just weekday mornings. Independent contractors and the self-employed, newly eligible for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance through the federal CARES act, would get their benefits in 24 to 48 hours, Newsom promised.
While the agency has successfully distributed more than $33.5 billion in unemployment benefits, some Californians still face months without any jobless benefits, confusing guidelines, impenetrable phone lines, and frequent disconnections when they do get through to a live person. California’s problems aren’t unique: across the country, antiquated, underfunded unemployment systems have left applicants hanging.
Many are the gig workers who Newsom promised would get expedited benefits, from a Santa Clara woman who received one letter awarding her unemployment and another denial letter on the same day to a Los Angeles interior designer who called the state as many as 62 times a day.
Department spokeswoman Loree Levy clarified that Newsom’s promise that pandemic-related benefits would arrive within two days “forgot some very important caveats.”
An increasingly loud chorus of California legislators have condemned the department. David Chiu, a Democrat assemblyman from San Francisco, branded the hashtag #EDDFailoftheDay with the story of a constituent who has waited for three months for their claim to be resolved. Other lawmakers piled on. Assemblyman Jim Patterson, a Fresno Republican, has requested an audit of the department.
Apply with the California Employment Development Department here.