The Employment Development Department instituted a two-week “reset” on Sept. 19 in response to recommendations from a strike team put together by Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Local legislator James Gallagher has some doubts.
According to the EDD, there is a backlog of nearly 600,000 Californians who have applied for unemployment more than 21 days ago and have not had their claims processed. In addition, an estimated 1 million people have received payments but had to modify their claim and await resolution.
During the reset, EDD will implement a new identity verification software, redeploy experienced staff to process claims -- working through the oldest and most complex claims -- while new staff will focus on mail, email and an outbound call effort.
“Our system, as challenged as it’s been, is actually performing much better than the vast majority of states,” Newsom said during a video briefing last week.
Newsom said his administration inherited an outdated system that needs updating and that the country as a whole has an IT problem when it comes to unemployment. The goal of the reset is to reduce the backlog of claims and prevent the backlog from growing.
“The reset does not mean that those of you that are for the first time applying for benefits will be impacted in terms of those benefits being provided,” Newsom said. “Quite the contrary, we believe this will fast track the likelihood that you would otherwise gone into a manual process that could take upwards of 16 days.”
The co-chair of the strike team, Secretary of Government Operations Yolanda Richardson, said her team made over 70 recommendations in a over 100-page report.
“We believe if EDD embraces our recommendations they will be well on their path to creating a first class user experience,” Richardson said during the briefing.
Assemblyman James Gallagher (R-Yuba City) said the recommendations match the efficiencies of modern technology but that how they are implemented will be the key.
“In theory these are all great ideas, but can they be executed well?” Gallagher said via email.
Gallagher specifically mentioned the new identity verification software ID.me as being critical to solving the issue of delayed verification and preventing fraudulent claims.
“Many people sent in their ID verification documents months ago and still have not had them reviewed because the system is so draconian,” Gallagher said. “... I am opposed to the decision to stop all claim submissions for two weeks. This decision only further delays individuals’ ability to apply for support they need while our economy continues to be on hold.”
Gallagher’s office has seen a steady number of requests for help with accessing unemployment since the beginning of April. The Assemblyman said his office has assisted 223 individuals since the beginning of the pandemic.
State Sen. Jim Nielsen (R-Tehama) said people who have been calling his office are stressed and desperate. He said some applied six months ago and have yet to receive unemployment.
“Shutting down EDD for two weeks is outrageous and devastating to the people who lost their jobs,” Nielsen said in an email. “It is their lifeline to receive benefits in order to pay the bills. Government is supposed to work for the people in time of need, not create additional pressures and obstacles.”
He said while billions of dollars have been spent in an attempt to solve the problem, it’s too early to tell if the recommended changes will help Californians get benefits sooner.
“This insanity must stop,” Nielsen said. “The governor must focus on fixing EDD to help Californians now. The first and foremost change he can make is train and empower the staff who answers the phones to resolve cases. Hours wait on the phone and being hung up is not public service.”
The reset ends on Oct. 5 and will only impact people applying for benefits for the first time. Those applying for the first time now will be directed to a temporary website to input information so that EDD can invite them back to the online system when it’s ready. People who have already established claims will still be able to access their online account to manage existing claims, according to EDD.