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California's EDD director questioned for hours about agency's issues

Questions revolved around the agency's failure to return calls or answer the phone, return emails and provide solutions to issues.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The head of California’s Employment Development Department [EDD] was in the hot seat Thursday as Assemblymembers questioned him while nearly one million Californians are still waiting for their first unemployment benefits.

Governor Newsom’s office announced this week that it will be focusing on immediately processing claims, prioritizing the oldest ones first. The goal is to eliminate the backlog of claims by September.

However, in the heated hearing Thursday afternoon, state lawmakers grilled the EDD director Sharon Hilliard, about why the unemployment agency has failed to answer the phone, return emails or provide any real solutions for people stuck in a claims that can be traced back to the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic in March.

"Most importantly what I want to make sure everyone understands, is that EDD sincerely regrets any payment delays experienced by our customers," Hilliard said.

Most issues, she said. stem from what she calls an “antiquated” system. Officials say they are working to consolidate the EDD call centers into a single digital platform. Hilliard, however, couldn’t give a deadline on when that will happen. 

“But most importantly, what I want to make sure everyone understands, is that EDD sincerely regrets any payment delays experienced by our customers,” Hilliard said. “We're actually trying to get out of the business of doing call backs, that's why we're upgrading our call center so that we can have fully trained staff from 8-8, one virtual call center, and providing full service 7 days a week."

Newsom said he plans to use a strike team that will help overhaul the system, though that might not happen until October 2020.

Christine Perio, a small business owner, is one of nearly 240,000 people across the state that fall into the category of waiting on identity verification or a wage investigation. That means she, like so many others, are still waiting on benefits. 

Perio owns two skincare centers in both Tracy and Livermore. Still, even after submitting all of the paperwork requested for identity verification back in April, she has missed out on 16 payments worth more than $16,000 and says her businesses are now in jeopardy of closing.

“They have really let us down," Perio said. "They’re causing so much economic destruction to people who have worked their whole lives and have put into the process."

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Californians, lawmakers voice frustrations with Employment Development Department in hearing