A group seeking to reform the state’s unemployment insurance system kicked off its campaign Thursday outside an Employment Development Department office in South Los Angeles.
Backed by the Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment, the group was formed in response to a troubled computer upgrade at the EDD that delayed unemployment checks to 150,000 Californians.
The computer glitch snared payments to the state’s unemployed, leading to a November oversight hearing, and most recently, a request by a lawmaker for additional state funding and an audit to ease problems with the beleaguered state agency. The EDD has also struggled to keep up with the deluge of phone calls by frantic residents. A recent article by the Los Angeles Times found that after the upgrade, the EDD answers roughly 10% of an estimated 3.9 million calls placed in a week.
“We’re here to work together and fix this problem,” Beverly Roberts, a 76-year-old South L.A. resident said. “This is unacceptable.”
Roberts, who was overpaid in her claim and has been dealing with the EDD for months, said she has spent countless hours on the phone trying to get answers.
Others, such as Lekecia Dukes, a 39-year-old mother of two, said the EDD has been unresponsive.
Dukes, laid off from a sales job in December, said she filed for unemployment four weeks ago and has yet to be paid.
The last time she collected unemployment was a decade ago -- but this recent experience has been vastly different.
“I’m worried about paying rent this month,” she said. “I was hoping to get a check by now.”
The group, which is calling itself Fix Unemployment Now, will hold a town hall meeting next week to organize interested state residents.
It hopes to hold the contractor behind the computer upgrade, Deloitte Consulting, accountable for the botched rollout of the system that processes unemployment claims.
Deloitte was paid $110 million for its work on the unemployment insurance upgrade. The New York firm has been criticized for delivering IT projects late and over budget -- often with disastrous results. In Florida, for example, an unemployment insurance system implemented there malfunctioned and the state has withheld payment to the firm until the system is fixed.
In a statement Wednesday, the EDD said the agency has been hobbled by significant federal underfunding. Though it's a state agency, the administrative costs are paid for with federal dollars.
The underfunding, "leaves us short-staffed to appropriately deal with demand that remains higher than before the recession," spokeswoman Loree Levy said in a statement.
"Unfortunately, the nature of the eligibility-based unemployment insurance program will always leave some unemployed workers frustrated when they don’t qualify for benefits. ... The EDD believes Californians deserve timely and reliable [unemployment insurance] services and we are just as frustrated as our customers in not being able to provide ample phone service."
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