Tech glitches have struck California’s beleaguered unemployment department once again.

The Employment Development Department’s website was unable to process claimants’ information over the weekend and was still plagued with difficulties Monday. “Some customers are experiencing issues using these services,” a pop-up on EDD’s benefits registration webpage read Monday. “We’re working to restore service as soon as possible. Please check back later.” EDD spokesperson Loree Levy acknowledged “an intermittent issue,” but said more than 500,000 people were still able to get through and certify claims.

What exactly “an intermittent issue” means is unclear — but what is clear is that EDD is digging itself into an ever-deeper hole of backlogged claims. For seven straight weeks, the logjam of claims has topped 1 million — meaning it’s actually larger than it was last July, when Gov. Gavin Newsom vowed to clear the then-backlog of nearly 1 million claims by the end of September.

Meanwhile, the department is about to face yet another deluge of claims required for the thousands of Californians who have been unemployed for 12 months. And EDD, which just began certifying on March 7 the federal unemployment benefits from the December stimulus package, said last week it will take until April 10 — or April 30, in some cases — to begin certifying benefits from the stimulus package President Joe Biden signed this month.

Challenges with certifying claims have been so pervasive that a website called “Is It Down Right Now?” has sprung up to check whether EDD’s services are functional at any given moment. The comments section is full of frustrated Californians sharing tips and tricks for getting claims certified, many of whom say they spent multiple days trying to get through. One woman said Monday she finally reached EDD after 100 calls, only to have the representative say they couldn’t help because the system was down.

At a Sacramento Press Club event on Monday that I moderated alongside the Sacramento Bee’s Hannah Wiley, most of the five lawmakers we talked to pinpointed EDD as their constituents’ primary problem. Assemblymember Suzette Martinez Valladares, a Santa Clarita Republican, said her office receives thousands of EDD-related calls a month.

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The coronavirus bottom line: As of Monday, California had 3,547,278 confirmed cases (+0.1% from previous day) and 56,545 deaths (+0.8% from previous day), according to a CalMatters tracker.

California has administered 14,819,755 vaccine doses.

Plus: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. We’re also tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by county and lawsuits against COVID-19 restrictions.


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1. State labor law apparently on shaky ground

Farmworkers pick strawberries in Watsonville. Photo by David Rodriguez, The Salinas Californian

California is the only state in the nation that permits unions to enter growers’ private property to encourage farmworkers to organize — but in a Monday hearing before the U.S. Supreme Court, both liberal and conservative justices appeared likely to restrict that law or strike it down altogether, the Los Angeles Times reports. Supporters of California’s landmark 1975 law say such a ruling could not only drastically impact unions’ ability to educate farmworkers about their rights, but could also potentially limit government regulators’ access to private property for health and safety inspections. But the growers who brought the case to the Supreme Court say that in the age of social media, it’s no longer necessary to have union organizers physically enter farms in order to make their case to workers.

2. Can these bills solve housing crisis?

A construction crew works on a 290-unit affordable housing community in Fremont. Photo by Anda Chu, Bay Area News Group

If a package of ambitious housing bills proposed by top Senate Democrats becomes law, duplexes and small apartment buildings could spring up on single-family lots; public housing projects could dot the skyline of larger cities; and housing developments could emerge amid vacant strip malls and big-box stores. But to get there, the state will first have to wrest more control of housing from cities and counties — and that’s not a fight local governments are going to give up easily, CalMatters’ Nigel Duara reports. Already, some cities have announced their opposition to the proposals, even as affordable housing and homeless advocates plan to reveal on Thursday a housing agenda that goes even further than the lawmakers’.

Here’s an overview of what the Senate Democrats are proposing:

  • Changing zoning to allow more dense housing at affordable prices.
  • Creating exceptions to California’s strict environmental review process to permit new and denser housing.
  • Using bond money to build affordable housing.

For a closer look at the individual bills, check out Nigel’s article.

3. California tax revenues soar

Image via iStock

Money just keeps flowing into California. Newsom announced Monday that the Golden State has collected $14.3 billion more than was anticipated in January’s revenue forecast, an influx that follows $150 billion in federal stimulus and an estimated $15 billion state surplus. But trying to calculate California’s actual budget surplus is an extremely complicated exercise, as illustrated by this tweet from Jason Sisney, the Assembly Democrats’ budget advisor. And the state has already spent around $9.6 billion of the money on $600 stimulus payments for millions of low-income Californians and relief funds for small businesses.

Still, the massive injection of cash is likely to increase pressure on lawmakers to pass a recently proposed wealth tax as the gap between California’s haves and have-nots continues to widen. But in an indication of the uphill battle the bill faces, two Democrats expressed an aversion to the wealth tax in Monday’s Sacramento Press Club event.


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CalMatters commentary

CalMatters columnist Dan Walters: Will California’s senior senator, Dianne Feinstein, fill out her current term in the face of pressure to retire?

A cleaner future: SoCalGas is committed to achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions in our operations and delivery of energy by 2045, writes Scott Drury, CEO of the Southern California Gas Company.

Aiding Dreamers: Here’s why it’s important for California that DACA recipients be provided permanent resident status, argues Blake Nordahl, a professor at the University of the Pacific’s McGeorge School of Law.


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Other things worth your time

Kaiser accuses Santa Clara County of leaving prospective vaccine recipients ‘in limbo.’ // San Jose Inside

State allows indoor visits to resume in nursing and long-term care homes. // Santa Rosa Press Democrat

California changes course again, will allow bands, drumline at sports games. // Mercury News

Less than 30% of students ready to return to LAUSD campuses. // Los Angeles Times

Politically connected appointees win confirmation to California medical watchdog board. // San Francisco Chronicle

Newsom can raise unlimited money against the recall, but candidates to replace him can’t. // Sacramento Bee

Former Newsom chief of staff to join San Francisco firm, ending Biden job speculation. // Politico

Bay Area should lead effort to end ‘poverty tows.’ // San Francisco Chronicle

Bill to create a Southern Los Angeles County water watchdog puts agencies on edge. // Daily News

Homelessness crisis grips Santa Cruz, prompts controversial tactic. // Mercury News

Rare sighting of tropical false killer whales off Orange County coast. // Orange County Register


See you tomorrow.

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Emily Hoeven writes the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters. Her reporting, essays, and opinion columns have been published in San Francisco Weekly, the Deseret News, the San Francisco Business...