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Californians frustrated by unemployment check delays vent online

September 26, 2013|By Ricardo Lopez
  • The state Employment Development Department said late Tuesday that it will begin paying out all delayed unemployment benefits as soon as Thursday. Above, visitors use the unemployment insurance phone bank at the EDD office in Sacramento.
The state Employment Development Department said late Tuesday that it… (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

They spent hours calling the unemployment benefits hotline hoping to reach a human. In-person visits to local Employment Development Department offices were unfruitful. And with no notification by snail mail, email or telephone, Californians whose unemployment checks were delayed after a computer glitch over Labor Day took to an online forum to vent and share news.

The state's Employment Development Department has been contending with the ire of tens of thousands of unemployed Californians who have been waiting for weeks for their benefit payments to post.  

The EDD has been dealing with a huge backlog of unemployment claims after an upgrade of its 30-year-old computer system malfunctioned over the Labor Day weekend. Since then the agency has been hand-processing claims, which has delayed some payments by weeks.

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The agency did not notify those affected about the problem, relying instead on social media and its website to spread the word. But many people never found out. Some found their answers on a crudely named website: EDDsucks.com.

Here, users described in detail how the computer glitch and ensuing backlog was affecting them. The website's tagline reads: "Share your EDD stories and troubles here. You are not alone!"

Several who posted said they were falling behind on rent, car payments and other bills. One user, a diabetic, said the delay had become a medical emergency: "I desperately need more test strips because my insurance will only cover so many a month."

The website also contains tips on how to bypass the EDD's automated phone systems to reach a human. But for many, talking to an agent was elusive.

"I have the EDD hold music stuck in my head," one user wrote. "Considering it has been my morning theme song for the past two weeks I guess that’s not too surprising."

The EDD late Tuesday was ordered by the state's top labor official to immediately issue payments to 124,000 Californians whose benefit checks have been delayed by the computer glitch. A spokeswoman for the agency said payments would begin as early as Thursday. 

But as of Thursday morning, several users posted in the latest thread that they had yet to receive payments: "Gave up last night and fell asleep hoping that I’d have money in the AM... nope!!" one comment read.

Legislators around California, who are on recess, said their offices have been fielding calls and emails from residents who are not getting unemployment payments.

Assemblyman Richard Hershel Bloom (D-Santa Monica) said the order to pay out backlogged claims immediately was a bold and appropriate move "because it deals with an emergency and gets money into people's hands so they can deal with their immediate financial need."

Bloom said he expected there would be oversight hearings to determine what exactly happened and how to avoid similar problems in the future. He took issue with how the EDD communicated the problem not just to the public but also to state lawmakers.

"There were some issues with notification, even to the Legislature," he said. "The flow of information was not what it should be." 

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