"Inept" and "unresponsive."
That is how state lawmakers described the Employment Development Department, which is in charge of paying out unemployment benefits. The CA EDD is now buried under months of backed up unemployment claims and faced a grilling Thursday at the State Capitol.
"EDD has been failing California," said San Francisco Assemblyman David Chiu. "Because of EDD’s failures, our constituents are depleting their life savings, going into extreme debt, having trouble paying rent or putting food on the table."
The department has processed more than $55 billion in benefits for 9 million Californians, a staggering number that far outstrips normal demand. But nearly one million people have been waiting on checks for months.
EDD Director Sharon Hilliard said the department is working with equipment that is 25 years old, which is creating a lot of problems. DMV officials also pointed to technical issues when they were grilled by state lawmakers for the delay in rolling out REAL ID last year.
Another issue, according to Hilliard, is that the call center is only staffed for four hours a day by 100 workers, so it is extremely difficult for people experiencing issues to get through to someone who can help them.
"Right now, it’s four to six week wait time on the call list (to get a call back)," said Hilliard.
"Do you think that is acceptable?" asked Laguna Beach Assemblymember Cottie Petrie-Norris.
"No, absolutely not," answered Hilliard.
Currently, EDD is only answering 5% of the 11 million calls it receives a week.
"I do not understand why we cannot get a call back or schedule a time or something, day or night," said Scott Berger, an applicant from Manteca. "I mean heck, I understand they’re busy. If they need people, I would be willing to be hired."
Hilliard estimated it would take EDD about two months just to get through the backlogged claims, and while a plan by Congress to extend federal benefits would be helpful to applicants, it would take her departments 20 weeks of programming before any of those checks could go out.
"All of these timelines just seem totally out of step with the urgency we are in," said Petrie-Norris.
Legislators said the pandemic is exposing underlying issues with EDD, which is in need of a major overhaul.
The hope is to have the backlog resolved by late September.