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California’s unemployment call center is still struggling to process claims

A surge in jobless claims in California has jammed phone lines to the state's claims center despite a shift of hundreds of additional workers to answer phones.
(Damian Dovarganes / Associated Press)

California has expanded phone assistance to those filing unemployment insurance claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, but the state Employment Development Department continues to receive criticism from people who have not been able to get through on jammed lines despite making dozens of calls to the agency.

California Labor Secretary Julie Su acknowledged Monday afternoon that jobless Californians were still having a difficult time reaching live representatives for help with their unemployment claims and said her office is working to resolve the issue.

“I know that people have continued to have trouble today reaching someone on the phone center. I know that people are still not getting through,” Su said during a Facebook Live chat in which residents peppered her with 1,500 questions and messages, many of them showing frustration.

The EDD has shifted 1,340 state workers to answer phones and process requests for assistance in response to more than 2.7 million new jobless claims filed in the last month.

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Su said Monday that she has heard from some people who have gotten through on the phone line but added, “I know that is not the experience for the majority of people who are listening in now, and I want you to hear from me directly that that is not acceptable and we are going to fix it.”

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced last week that EDD phone services previously available from 8 a.m. to noon on weekdays would begin operating from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week starting Monday.

While many people are able to file jobless claims online without issue, others have specific problems they are trying to resolve, including addressing denied claims, which require talking to a live EDD representative.

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Shelly Jaffe, an Orange County resident who lost his job as a salesperson in the steel industry, said he was unable to get through the EDD phone lines Monday to obtain answers about how to arrange a 13-week extension of benefits recently granted by Congress.

“I have tried to reach the unemployment office for the last three hours. You cannot get through to them,” said Jaffe, 80, who says the loss of income is making it hard to pay bills.

Calls by The Times to the EDD call center were answered with a recording that says: “We are currently receiving more calls than we can answer and are unable to assist you at this time. Please try again later.”

Alameda resident Eva Cazares, 50, faced similar frustrations. She was furloughed by Macy’s at the end of March and is trying to get information from EDD about how to update her claim, which was initially denied.

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Cazares said she called the line 100 times on Monday and couldn’t get through.

“I’ve been on it for an hour straight and still haven’t been able to contact anyone,” she said.

Su said she hears the concerns.

“I acknowledge that problem. I own it,” Sue said Monday. “We need to be accessible and we are definitely going to fix that problem.”

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In directing the expanded hours for EDD phone services, Newsom said Wednesday that he understands the frustrations of unemployed Californians.

“Many Californians are one paycheck away from losing their homes or from being able to put food on their tables, and COVID-19 has only made these challenges worse,” Newsom said. “California is focused on getting relief dollars and unemployment assistance in the hands of those who need it as quickly as possible.”

Times staff writer Sarah D. Wire contributed to this report.


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