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CBS News 8 - San Diego, CA News Station - KFMB Channel 8 | cbs8.com

Assembly members push for audit of state unemployment agency, EDD

Republicans question why EDD bureaucracy can't handle recent surge in unemployment claims.

SAN DIEGO COUNTY, Calif. — Republican assembly members in Sacramento are calling for an audit of the state Employment Development Department (EDD) as millions of California have been left to their own devices to try and get in contact with the agency.

The former mayor of Fresno, Jim Patterson, is one of more than a dozen state assembly members who signed a June 26 letter addressed to the chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Rudy Salas (D-Bakersfield).

“EDD is a dinosaur, a monopoly. It is a bureaucratic mess and doing the same kind of thing over and over again is a recipe for failure,” said Patterson.

The District 23 assemblyman said EDD was audited back in 2011 and the agency failed to upgrade its technology to handle a surge of unemployed workers like we have seen during the current pandemic.

“It is time to tear down the manner and methods of how we contract and how we do technological upgrades,” Patterson said.

News 8 has been reporting on the backlog of claims at EDD since March, while following several frustrated, unemployed workers in San Diego County.

One of those workers, Karen Rundio of Oceanside, said she recently received a check from EDD, which included 13 weeks of unemployment back pay.

RELATED: Long waits for EDD unemployment claim money to come through

Other people are turning to YouTube, where people are posting instructions on how to get through on the jammed, EDD phone lines.

“You're talking about essentially a phone hack,” said Patterson.

He said if a private company in California’s Silicon Valley was in charge of the EDD phone lines, people wouldn't have to resort to hacking tricks to talk to a real person.

“Yes, you can get through but most of the time the people on the other end of the line are there to basically just take your call and say you'll get a call back,” Patterson said.

EDD is aware of legislative efforts to audit the agency. The agency’s Media Services division emailed News 8 the following statement:

The EDD has an ongoing partnership with legislative staff to assist constituents whether we are in a pandemic or not. But this channel for investigating claimant concerns is only a very small one of the many ways in which we communicate with our customers and process workers’ claims and questions the EDD receives. We continue to revise that process with legislative staffers as we go to efficiently collect claim information for follow up.

But in the bigger picture, we continue to automatically process the vast majority of claims we receive and issue payment to an impacted worker determined to be eligible within about three weeks of the individual applying for benefits. Claims that require staff review including Identity Verification and wage investigations will always take longer than the typical three weeks for most claimants to get a claim processed for payment, whether we are in a pandemic or not. With the historic demand that surged overnight, these work queues are talking a little longer to complete. This work on more complex cases represents a small percentage of our overall claim load but the EDD continues to apply more staff and automation efforts to work through these cases as quickly as possible.

In total, EDD has paid more than $37.5 billion in critical unemployment benefits to impacted workers and processed more than 7 million claims over just the last 3.5 months, almost doubling the claim total and payments over the worst full year of the Great Recession (3.8 million claims and $22.9 billion in payments in 2010). And we pledge to continue doing everything possible to fully meet the needs of Californians seeking our help. That includes:

· The staff at the Employment Development Department care deeply about serving those impacted by this unprecedented pandemic, which hit at a time when the state was seeing record low unemployment with correspondingly low federal administrative funding and therefore reduced staffing levels. We continue to work around the clock, seven days a week and over holidays including the recent Fourth of July holiday weekend to expand our capacity for processing this unprecedented demand for unemployment benefits as quickly as possible.

· We are enhancing our technology systems to increase efficiencies, and have already hired or have offers extended to more than 4,000 new staff needed as part of an expedited mass hiring effort with the increased federal funding we’ve received. We also put in place a chatbot and text message service to help provide Californians answers to their most common questions and help reduce the high demand for the call center.

We believe the combination of the various tactics we continue to deploy to serve customers through a number of different channels, along with our expedited hiring effort that will double our available resources, will continue to enhance our customer service capacity and further drive down the number of calls we are receiving. That will help us open up further access for those customers who truly have to speak with a call center representative. 

Here is some additional background information that might also be helpful.

EDD’s development efforts since last recession:

In the midst of the Great Recession and scarce State funds, the EDD was only authorized to replace the Continued Claims functionality, roughly 25% of UI program functionality. This short-term fix required the EDD to keep and interface to older, legacy mainframe systems. The EDD is now on course to implement a long-term fix in the form of the Benefit Systems Modernization (BSM) project to provide one modernized solution for our Unemployment Insurance, Disability Insurance and Paid Family Leave programs with funding approved by the legislature throughout the years to support this effort. We completed the first phase of the mandated Project Approval Lifecycle (PAL) process in 2016, commenced phase four last October, and anticipate vendor selection in the next few months.

Below is the full letter addressed to the chair of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, Rudy Salas: