In what can only be viewed as good news for Californians trying to wrestle with jobless benefits, state officials said Friday that they would ramp up staffing at the Employment Development Department, where there aren't even enough bodies to answer the phones.
As The Times reported recently, as few as 1 in 10 client phone calls were getting a human voice on the other end of the line. Labor and Workforce Development Secretary David Lanier has directed the department to add up to 800 workers to handle the basic duties of answering phones and processing unemployment and some disability benefits.
The Times editorialized this week about the roots of the problem:
There are reasons for this. The department gets the bulk of its administrative budget for handling unemployment and some disability benefits from the federal government, and that has dropped from a peak of $645 million in 2010 to $477 million in the most recent fiscal year, covering only 73% of the state's cost. The Brown administration has scrambled for funds from state sources and has cut costs, including department staff — from 3,800 workers at the peak of the recession to about 2,500 in late November.
One of the empty positions is at the top, vacant since Director Pamela Harris retired in August. Her departure came just before a botched computer upgrade over the
According to Lanier's letter, the problem is too critical to await the state's budget process, which could take months to settle. So he directed Sharon Hilliard, who is running the department (which falls under Lanier's jurisdiction) until the directorship is filled, to beef up the staffing, including rehiring 50 former staffers with expertise (it's unclear why the department wouldn't hire as many of its laid-off workers as it could). He also directed the department to add a "virtual hold" program in which callers can opt to schedule a return call from a staffer, which would cut down on the frustrations.
Now if someone could just figure out how to get the unemployed jobs …