The near-collapse of customer service is just the latest headache for EDD, which has struggled since a disastrous launch of an upgraded computer system over the Labor Day weekend. A software glitch delayed payments to about 150,000 Californians, forcing the agency to revert to processing some claims by hand.

Since then, the system continued to be plagued by late payments, high rates of benefit denials and the near-total inability of the jobless to get information about their pending claims. To make matters worse, the EDD suffered from a leadership vacuum and has not had a permanent director for just over a year.

EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy said the agency welcomes new resources from the state to help the 750,000 Californians receiving unemployment benefits.

"Coupled with the ability to hire new staff and retain current staff, the EDD anticipates major gains in being more available to answer our customers' calls and processing their claim work," Levy said.

Brown aide Lanier, however, cautioned that "the challenges EDD faces were years in the making and won't be fixed overnight."

Lanier said the Brown administration also plans to beef up the EDD's information technology expertise by hiring specialists to improve the EDD's three-decade old computer system. Software designed to let the old system communicate with a new one had serious glitches when it went live just after Labor Day weekend.

Maurice Emsellem, co-policy director in Oakland for the National Employment Law Project, said "more staffing and a functioning telephone system" would go "a long way toward improving morale and basic customer service, which has been lacking."

But unemployed security guard Daniel Woodruff of Salinas said his experience with the EDD made him skeptical that the system can be fixed. His benefits were interrupted for three months, forcing him to dip into his retirement savings to pay bills.

"I don't trust the EDD anymore," Woodruff said.

Twitter: @MarcLifsher

Twitter: @rljourno

<b>FOR THE RECORD:</b><br>

<b>Afghanistan provinces:</b>An earlier version of this online article misidentified the names of two Afghanistan provinces. Gardez is the capital of Afghanistan’s Paktia province, not Paktika, and the Obeh district is in the province of Herat, not Heart.