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California EDD struggling to keep up with unemployment claims

October 09, 2013|By Ricardo Lopez
  • Jeremy Taylor, who recently left the Air Force, searches for jobs at the California Employment Development Department office in Sacramento.
Jeremy Taylor, who recently left the Air Force, searches for jobs at the… (Rich Pedroncelli, AP )

It took a month before the state Employment Development Department said it got a handle on about 124,000 backlogged unemployment benefits claim after a computer upgrade inadvertently halted payments.

Now another problem: Thousands of Californians who have ongoing unemployment claims say they haven't received forms necessary to keep their benefits check coming in on time. 

Those affected have taken to social media and online forums to ask: Where are our claim forms?

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Answers are tough to come by. Many have emailed and called the state agency's benefits hotline more times than they care to count. Messages are unreturned and reaching a live person by phone is a rare victory.

Margaret Black, 50, is among them. 

The Santa Monica resident said she has a standing claim with the EDD since April and was receiving payments regularly. She was last paid in late August and is owed about $2,700, she said. 

The payments stopped shortly after the EDD upgraded its 30-year-old computer systems over Labor Day weekend. Even a phone interview with an EDD representative on Sep. 13 offered no solution to her problem. 

"After the phone interview, the EDD rep said nothing was wrong with my claim," she said.

Loree Levy, a spokeswoman for the agency, sidestepped a direct question posed by a Times reporter by email Tuesday about the delayed claim forms. Instead, Levy sent a statement with instructions to claimants urging them to use the same method (whether online, by phone or by mail) to certify for benefits as they had previously used. 

A follow-up question was not immediately returned Wednesday. 

The EDD has been plagued with problems that started with the computer upgrade glitch. After discovering the problem -- the new system had trouble converting old claims data, the agency said -- state workers have worked overtime to process claims and send payments to people's bank accounts.

But progress was slow, and late last month, the state's top labor official ordered the agency to immediately pay out all the backlogged claims and check claimants' eligibility later. 

Those payments took another week to complete, and even then, hundreds of Californians are still waiting for their backlogged payments. 

The EDD has tried to assure customers that the payments are being processed and urged people not to call because the agency is short-staffed. Due to federal budget cuts, the unemployment benefits hotline is not manned after 12 p.m.

Those affected by the delays have fallen behind on bills, rent and other household expenses. Some are even facing eviction. 

State lawmakers, the governor's office and other elected officials have been fielding calls from those owed payments since problems began. 

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