May 7, 2021

Opinion: Californians are anxious about a backlog in unemployment checks. Lawmakers must intervene.

Opinion: Californians are anxious about a backlog in unemployment checks. Lawmakers must intervene.


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It’s been a year since California lawmakers began receiving complaints from newly laid-off constituents about their inability to get their unemployment claims processed by the state Employment Development Department. Despite vows from Gov. Gavin Newsom that he would vigorously reduce the backlog of claims, the problem is actually getting worse. There were 1.03 million unresolved claims on April 3 — and even more this month — 1.08 million on May 1. Lawmakers report many jobless constituents are desperate over their inability to feed their families.

During a health emergency in which unemployment soared, it’s outrageous that those who lost jobs could not get state benefits to which they were legally entitled. When people needed help most, they got lost in an indifferent bureaucratic maze.

As if it weren’t bad enough that EDD failed to help so many people with legitimate benefits requests, a state investigation found that it provided from $10 billion to $31 billion in jobless benefits that were fraudulently obtained, including at least $810 million that went to 45,000 prison inmates. On Tuesday, the agency revealed that it had stopped paying benefits to 932,000 recipients with invalid claims.

About 450,000 claims in the backlog are awaiting EDD action and the rest are awaiting certification from unemployed Californians, many of whom have complained about phone system and technology snafus. It’s amazing that a state running a multibillion-dollar surplus can’t rapidly add temporary staff to reduce the backlog. Instead, Newsom proposed creating a new agency with responsibility for providing benefits. Luckily, lawmakers have passed on that idea, saying the existing agency needs to get its act together. This has been true for a year. It’s time for the Legislature to step in and beef up EDD staffing instead of waiting on Newsom. At this rate, the pandemic may be over before people get checks.





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