Philip Wang has been through the unemployment wringer, first with his work hours cut followed by a three-month furlough.
Since March 27 when the 38-year-old Rancho Santa Margarita dentist’s income mostly evaporated, he’s been waiting for jobless benefits.
He says he has yet to receive a single payment from California’s Employment Development Department.
Wang said while he’s fortunate to be back at work now full-time, he’s had no luck with EDD. “I’m still calling every day, hoping they’ll honor back pay for the four months. I still have not been able to get through to anyone.”
Wang is among nearly 2 million Californians who filed claims during the first three months of government-ordered business lockdowns and are still waiting to be paid.
While the bureaucratic wheels continue to grind slowly for the beleaguered agency, frustrated applicants call the system “insane” and “awful.”
The backlog illustrates the troubles plaguing the EDD as the newly jobless are forced to grapple with an overwhelmed phone system and antiquated technology.
Leslie Herschler, a retired teacher, was working as an educational tour guide at Knott’s Berry Farm before the park closed in mid-March.
The 61-year-old Garden Grove resident was receiving unemployment payments up until June 7 when they suddenly stopped without explanation.
After scores of emails and mostly fruitless phone calls, he got much of his benefits. One payment remains elusive.
“This is absolutely insane,” the 60-year-old Garden Grove resident said. “I sent them a total of 22 emails. And despite their five- to seven-day automatic response, I have heard nothing.”
On July 1, the EDD announced the state was extending jobless benefits for up to 20 additional weeks using federal funding for longer-term unemployed workers impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The extension will be welcomed by many, but it comes as little consolation for those who have yet to receive an EDD payment.
The problem is largely a matter of logistics. When the health crisis kicked in, California was experiencing record low unemployment with correspondingly low federal administrative funding — factors that meant reduced staffing levels for the EDD.
In essence, the agency was caught flat-footed.
It has since received increased federal funding but faces a record surge in demand for unemployment benefits and is looking to hire 5,300 additional employees.
The department has hired or made conditional job offers to more than 4,300 Californians since May to assist with all aspects of the benefits program, the agency said. Hundreds have already been brought on board, and $45.6 billion in unemployment benefits have gone out to workers who have lost their jobs or had their hours reduced.
But with demand accelerating from zero to 60 in the blink of an eye, it hasn’t been enough.
Figures released Friday show the state’s unemployment rate dropped to 14.9% in June. That was down from 16.4% in April and May but well above the 12.3% rate California saw at the peak of the Great Recession.
Enhanced technology, more communication
In a statement issued Friday, the EDD said it is “enhancing technology systems and developing additional communication methods” for getting claimants the information they need.
“The department continues to evolve daily to fully meet this moment and ensure claimants are paid all of the benefits they are eligible to receive,” the agency said.
Robert Russ, a self-employed camera operator, is still waiting.
“The bottom line is EDD is an awful program to deal with on its best day,” he said.
Russ was set to begin work on an HBO series in late March, but the program was canceled as COVID-19 took hold. When he tried to gain relief through the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act program, he was told he had to apply through the EDD to receive $600 a week in federal aid.
But when he logged onto his EDD account and clicked “certify for benefits” he was directed to a page that said, “Maximum Benefits Paid. You have received all benefits payable to you at this time.”
No delays at BofA
A representative with Bank of America, which disburses the state benefits through EDD debit cards, said the bank hasn’t experienced any bottlenecks from its end.
“We aren’t seeing any delays,” she said. “But getting unemployment payments does require a person to follow certain steps. You have to file, get validated and go through a screening with the EDD. Once someone is eligible and can prove their employment status the EDD contacts us and we issue a card the next day.”
California residents who received an EDD debit card within the last three years will receive their current payments on the same card. Others will be issued a new one. If someone had an EDD debit card but lost it they can request a replacement by accessing the Replace My Card tab on www.bankofamerica.com/eddcard.
“We issue cards the next business day,” the BofA representative said. “But sometimes people will forget that they already have a card, or they might put their old address. That will slow things down.”
Staff writers George Avalos and Samantha Gowen contributed to this report.
Source: Orange County Register