SACRAMENTO, Calif. — From Sept. 20 to Oct. 4, the Employment Development Department (EDD) will not be accepting new online applications for unemployment benefits.
The EDD is taking a two week “reset period” to update their system and reduce the 1.6 million claims that need to be processed or verified.
On Saturday evening, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s strike team released a 100+ page report, showing many problems, including a backlog of unresolved claims growing by 20,000 claims a day.
The strike team estimated no more than 1 in 1,000 calls were being answered at the main call center, and while it says EDD would need a staff of 6,000 people to handle the call volume, the team never observed more than 20 employees answering calls at a time. The report recommends moving to an outbound call strategy.
Right now, 40% of all applications are being flagged for manual review, in many cases to verify the identity of those applying; this can take months. The state says it is already working on new automatic verification software that should be up and running in two weeks.
As far as new unemployment applicants having to wait during those two weeks, on Monday, Newsom said those first-time applicants will benefit from the updated system.
“We believe this will fast track the likelihood you would otherwise have gone into a manual process that could take upwards of 60 days,” said Newsom.
News of the “reset” comes as little relief to the thousands of people who are still waiting on their benefits.
It's now been five months since Kathy Shepherd made a simple mistake on her unemployment benefits application.
"It's a little frustrating, I have to admit. I'm very frustrated," Shepherd said.
When giving her social security number, she accidentally entered one incorrect digit. It was a mistake that she says has cost her five months’ worth of unemployment benefits. She's been working ever since to get it fixed.
"I tried calling last week and I can't call in because it just says they're overwhelmed, they're not taking any calls, please try back," she said.
And she has continued to call multiple times a week.
"I haven't tried this week and probably today, not going to get anywhere because they're taking their hiatus or whatever, their break," she said.
So she tried emailing and even mailing physical letters.
"I've just tried different avenues and just had no luck so here I am," she said.
At a time when her claim is one of more than half a million in the system still backlogged, she questions if this is the best time for the EDD to take a two-week reset.
"If it's going to help them improve to help them process things for people, then maybe it's a good thing. But if they're just going to do it to kick back and take a vacation, not good," she said.
And shepherd isn't alone. The EDD says they have a backlog of nearly 600,000 people who applied for benefits more than three weeks ago and still haven't been processed. They also say they have an estimated one million cases where people have received payments but have since modified their claim and are now awaiting resolution.
This is also not to mention anyone who tries to log in for the first time over the next two weeks, only to be turned away until October 4.
"I do feel for them because it's tough, especially when people are their sole income and they depend on that money, which we all like our money, but yeah it stinks, I feel for them," she said.
While she worries this could tack on an extra two weeks to her five month wait time, she hopes this break will be worth it.
"It's never an appropriate time for anybody for that, really, but obviously something's wrong," she said.
Another action the state will be taking is providing people information in a mobile-friendly manner, where people can use their smartphones to identify themselves and upload documents.
“We’ve come up with a system called ‘ID ME’. This will process about 90% of all new applications. You’ll have a requirement under this system to do selfies and provide documentation, this could substantially not exclusively mitigate fraud,” said Newsom.
EDD Director Sharon Hilliard says it will take some time to clear the backlog of claims.
“For the backlog that we are experiencing, we predict between now and the end of January will be completed,” said Hilliard.
Assemblyman Jim Patterson says he doesn’t believe the EDD system can be updated in just two weeks.