10.20.20 A double whammy for jobless workers

Excerpted from Orange County Register

By Dan Walters

The state’s stubbornly high unemployment rate, nearly 50% higher than the national rate, means that the state Employment Development Department’s lackluster service to jobless Californians who need benefits for food and shelter will continue to draw media and political heat.

The employment department has paid out more than $100 billion to unemployed workers since the recession began, roughly half in the state’s “regular” benefits and the rest in special federal benefits. But frustrated workers who have been unable to get answers from the department’s staff about delays in benefits have besieged their legislators.

Newsom ordered a “strike team” to sort through the employment department’s shortcomings. He also suspended new applications for two weeks to work on 1.6 million backlogged claims and he implemented a new technological tool, ID.me, to automatically verify applicants. However, the department reported that ID.me has automatically approved only 64% of claims, a tiny improvement.

The strike team report cited not only EDD’s technological problems but a lack of trained staff able to make eligibility decisions. Adding hundreds of new workers without training and decision-making power may have made the problem worse.

During the Assembly’s hearing, Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, a Laguna Beach Democrat, dismissed EDD Director Sharon Hilliard’s previous assertions that backlogged claims were due to outdated technology, citing the strike team’s report.