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Newsletter: Unemployment office blues

A woman looks through the glass front door of the closed California Employment Development Department office in Canoga Park
Brenda Bermudez came looking for information about her unemployment claim in May but found the California Employment Development Department office in Canoga Park closed.
(Brian van der Brug / Los Angeles Times)

California unemployment agency workers say internal problems are stalling the claims process.

TOP STORIES

Unemployment Office Blues

As California deals with a massive influx of requests for unemployment benefits in the COVID-19 pandemic, some state workers processing claims say they are buckling under pressure, hampered by outdated technology, bureaucratic red tape and a shortage of trained, experienced staff.

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The state Employment Development Department is so overwhelmed that Gov. Gavin Newsom acknowledged nearly 1 million claims may be eligible for payment but require more information, with estimates that the backlog won’t be eliminated until the end of September.

Inside the EDD, full-time employees and temporary hires say they are working long hours, including weekends, but feel helpless to resolve problems for desperate Californians who have been out of work for months and often call crying or angry. Some EDD workers say that has driven them to quit.

“I just got so frustrated with their technology, their antiquated systems they are trying to use and the whole training program that was ridiculous,” said one.

Meanwhile, in Washington, D.C., Trump administration officials and Democratic congressional leaders remained deadlocked after weekend talks on another round of economic relief.

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A Day in the Life of L.A.

COVID-19 has not been an equal-opportunity scourge. Those who see no choice but to work outside their homes are far more exposed than those who have the luxury of sheltering in place. Those in crowded households are far more likely to fall ill than those who live alone or in small families.

A Times analysis, based on Los Angeles County data, shows that someone living in the Pico-Union neighborhood, for example, is seven times more likely to contract the disease — and 35 times more likely to die — than someone in relatively affluent Agoura Hills.

The Times sent reporters across L.A. to capture one day, Wednesday, in the life of the coronavirus pandemic. Here is what they found.

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More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— The pandemic has killed more than 154,000 people in the U.S. so far. Dr. Deborah Birx, who leads the White House coronavirus task force, warned that the pandemic had entered a “new phase” with fresh dangers for the country.

— In Texas’ Rio Grande Valley, a man who has transported bodies for 20 years says he has never seen anything like the onslaught of COVID-19 deaths.

— Officials say hospitalizations in L.A. and Orange counties have dropped over the last week, which may be evidence that actions taken to limit the virus’ spread are working.

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— Who gets to be first in line for a COVID-19 vaccine? U.S. health authorities hope by late next month to have some draft guidance on how to ration initial doses, but it’s a vexing decision.

For more, sign up for Coronavirus Today, a special edition of The Times’ Health and Science newsletter.

Sealed for Whose Protection?

The L.A. County Medical Examiner-Coroner’s office calls it a “security hold” — a status that prevents public disclosure of autopsies, often for months, years or, in some cases, indefinitely.

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Such sealing of records has long been considered routine, imposed almost always at the request of police or prosecutors, to provide secrecy during the investigation of complex, high-profile, mysterious or unusual deaths. Usually, the hold is lifted only when the requesting police or prosecuting agency gives the green light.

But in recent years, the practice has made the news when on-duty police officers have killed members of the public — cases in which anger and skepticism have fueled calls for accountability and transparency. The case of Andres Guardado, an 18-year-old fatally shot in June by a Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputy in Gardena, has provided a flashpoint.

The Hunted and the Hunter

After coming close to banning imports of hunting trophies two years ago, California lawmakers are once again looking to prohibit the importation and possession of animal parts from a list of endangered and threatened African species, including elephants, lions and rhinos.

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Aaron Raby, a self-described “blue-collar” L.A. crane operator, paid more than $30,000 to travel to South Africa to shoot and kill an elephant in mid-December. He ate a piece of the animal, then paid roughly $10,000 to have its head preserved as a souvenir of his adventure.

Now, activists have made Raby’s story a centerpiece of their fight to institute a ban in California.

OUR MUST-READS FROM THE WEEKEND

Black law enforcement leaders say they are uniquely equipped to understand the racism embedded in the criminal justice system. They see themselves in a position to bridge the difference. But some say working within the system has not always yielded changes in policies or behavior.

— More than a century ago, Bruce’s Beach in Manhattan Beach was a popular Black-owned resort — until the city drove the owners and their patrons out.

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— Columnist Steve Lopez ventures to Orange County, the heart of the mask resistance, where a doctor is trying to restore faith in science.

— A close-to-home day trip to Anacapa Island provides some physically distant adventure.

FROM THE ARCHIVES

When a SpaceX capsule carrying two NASA astronauts splashed down in the Gulf of Mexico on Sunday after more than two months at the International Space Station, it marked the first time in 45 years that astronauts have returned to Earth via an ocean landing.

The last such landing came in July 1975, when an Apollo capsule splashed down in the Pacific Ocean during the Apollo-Soyuz Test Project mission.

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The photo below shows the return of an Apollo command module that splashed down after an uncrewed test flight on Aug. 25, 1966. Here are more images from the Apollo program in Southern California.

An Apollo capsule is unloaded at Long Beach Naval Station in 1966.
An Apollo capsule is unloaded from the aircraft carrier Hornet at Long Beach Naval Station in 1966. The Hornet had recovered the capsule after splashdown in the Pacific Ocean.
(Los Angeles Times Archive / UCLA)

CALIFORNIA

— The Apple fire in Riverside County, the state’s first major wildfire of the year, grew to more than 20,000 acres over the weekend, destroying one home, forcing thousands of evacuations and sending up a huge plume of smoke.

— Seven Marines and one sailor are presumed dead after their landing craft sank in hundreds of feet of water off San Clemente Island during a training exercise. Officials say a search and rescue operation has ended.

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— A heatwave that has baked Southern California in recent days is expected to begin easing today, with relief and a noticeable drop in temperatures by the middle of the week.

— An LAPD spokesman said three people were taken into custody and two were cited over the weekend outside L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti‘s home, where hundreds of protesters demanded the mayor cancel rents.

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NATION-WORLD

Portland, Ore., is often called the “whitest” U.S. big city — more than 70% of the population is non-Latino white — but it has transformed into a national center for the Black Lives Matter movement.

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Isaias was forecast Monday to become a hurricane once again as it neared landfall in the Carolinas after bands of heavy rain from the tropical storm lashed Florida’s east coast.

— The vote to renominate President Trump is set to be conducted in private this month, without members of the media present, a spokeswoman for the Republican National Convention said, citing the coronavirus.

— Mexican authorities have arrested the leader of the Santa Rosa de Lima cartel, a gang known for stealing fuel from government pipelines and for turning Guanajuato state into a dangerous region.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

— With “Tijuana Jackson: Purpose Over Prison,” actor Romany Malco has made an antiracism film that he wants you to laugh at and learn from.

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Tom Pollock, the Hollywood deal maker who steered George Lucas through his “Star Wars” negotiations and went on to serve as chairman on Universal Studios for 10 years, has died at 77.

Britney Spears’ father is slamming a viral campaign that claims the pop star is being held captive by him, arguing that the movement’s organizers are “conspiracy theorists.”

Beyoncé fans are plumbing the many facets of her new visual album “Black Is King.”

BUSINESS

Microsoft said it is exploring buying TikTok in four markets, including the U.S., after the Trump administration raised national security concerns regarding the app’s ties to China.

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— As Americans put off hospital visits to avoid COVID-19 exposure, insurers are seeing big profits, but many are expected to seek to raise premiums next year anyway.

SPORTS

— A group of more than a dozen Pac-12 Conference football players released a lengthy list of demands related to the COVID-19 pandemic and racial injustice.

— With sports betting becoming legal in more and more states, the PGA Tour is looking to use gambling as a lure to draw more fans, despite the risks.

Free online games

Get our free daily crossword puzzle, sudoku, word search and arcade games in our new game center at latimes.com/games.

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OPINION

— California faces an eviction catastrophe. Gov. Gavin Newsom and state lawmakers need to act now, The Times’ editorial board writes.

— Big Tobacco helped destroy Black Americans’ health. Banning menthols could help improve it.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

— Female survivors of the atomic bombs dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki 75 years ago remember the horrific events. (BBC)

— How did so many private boats end up surrounding SpaceX’s Crew Dragon capsule not long after it made a splash landing? (WTSP)

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ONLY IN L.A.

Can tacos change the world for the better? In the latest edition of our Tasting Notes newsletter, restaurant critic Patricia Escárcega says she thought about this after eating the new $5 vegan taco at HomeState. It’s called the Chicano Batman and was developed in collaboration with members of the East L.A. psych-soul band of the same name. All profits from sales of the taco will be donated to the Watts Empowerment Center and Boyle Heights’ No Us Without You.

Comments or ideas? Email us at headlines@latimes.com.


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