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Today’s Headlines: An unemployed worker’s nightmare

A person walks past exterior of the California Employment Development Department building
The office of the California Employment Development Department in Sacramento. Lawmakers and government experts say the state unemployment system was unprepared for the unprecedented number of claims filed since the COVID-19 pandemic began.
(Rich Pedroncelli / Associated Press)

California’s unemployment agency was not prepared for the COVID-19 pandemic, a state audit confirmed this week. Here’s why.

TOP STORIES

An Unemployed Worker’s Nightmare

It’s been nearly a year since the COVID-19 pandemic began to knock the economy for a loop. Yet California’s unemployment benefits system remains mired in dysfunction.

That has left many jobless workers in dire straits, waiting for money they need to feed and clothe their families and avoid ending up on the streets. When trying to reach the state Employment Development Department, they’ve encountered jammed phone lines, overwhelmed staff and failed technology.

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While millions suffer, payments have instead gone to fulfill fraudulent claims filed in the names of prison inmates, infants, retirees and people living in other states. Applications for benefits have come from criminal gangs operating in Russia, China and Nigeria in a deluge.

What went wrong? State audits say the department failed to prepare for the flood of unemployment claims, neglected to fix problems officials identified more than a decade ago and all but ignored warnings of widespread fraud for months.

Another Chance at Health Coverage

President Biden has ordered government health insurance markets to reopen for a special sign-up window from Feb. 15 through May 15, offering uninsured Americans a chance to get covered as the spread of COVID-19 remains dangerously high and vaccines aren’t yet widely available.

Biden signed an executive order directing the HealthCare.gov insurance markets to take new applications for subsidized benefits, something the Trump administration refused to do. Biden also instructed his administration to consider reversing other Trump healthcare policies, including curbs on abortion counseling and the imposition of work requirements for low-income people getting Medicaid.

The actions were only the first steps by Biden, who has promised to build out former President Obama’s healthcare law to achieve a goal of coverage for all. But Biden’s approach will require congressional buy-in, and opposition to Obamacare runs deep among Republican lawmakers.

More Politics

— Democrats in Congress and the White House rejected a Republican pitch to split Biden’s $1.9-trillion COVID-19 rescue plan into smaller chunks, with lawmakers appearing primed to move the sweeping economic and coronavirus aid forward without GOP help.

— House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that lawmakers face threats of violence from an “enemy” within Congress and that more money is needed for protection. Pelosi did not say whom she meant by her reference to an “enemy” within the House.

— Pelosi intensified pressure on House Republican leaders for their handling of first-term Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, who has expressed support for baseless QAnon conspiracy theories and has liked Facebook posts that advocated violence against Democrats and the FBI. One post suggested shooting Pelosi in the head.

— The 1st Amendment’s protection of free speech sets a high bar, but constitutional experts say Trump will have difficulty pressing a strong free-speech defense in his upcoming Senate impeachment trial.

The Second-Dose Frustration

The instructions upon getting a first dose of COVID-19 vaccine are clear: People should get the second shot three or four weeks later. But things get a lot murkier when it comes to actually getting an appointment to meet that deadline.

As more Los Angeles County residents receive their first doses, tightening vaccine supplies and online scheduling problems are hampering their ability to finish the two-dose vaccination process.

On Thursday, some L.A. County residents who were scheduled to receive their first shot found out they will have to wait longer after officials pulled back some doses allocated for Ralphs pharmacies. Officials with the supermarket chain said the L.A. County Public Health Department, acting at the request of the California Department of Public Health, has “recovered” 10,000 doses from Ralphs pharmacies that were intended for upcoming appointments.

Many other residents are facing problems navigating the county’s online scheduling system, a confusing and frustrating process that can result in hours of wasted time. So many people have concerns about second doses that the county’s call center is jammed with 1,000 calls an hour at times, according to public officials.

More Top Coronavirus Headlines

— California lawmakers voted to extend COVID-19 eviction protections through June.

— State officials adopted sweeping emergency measures meant to protect low-wage workers from COVID-19. But workers say implementation of the new rule has been a letdown.

— A new coronavirus variant identified in South Africa has been found in the United States for the first time, with two cases diagnosed in South Carolina.

— It’s time to start wearing two masks or better ones, experts say.

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

FROM THE ARCHIVES

Beachfront homes come with at least one very big risk: storm surges.

On Jan. 30, 1998, Times photographer Alan Hagman was sent to Faria Beach in Ventura County after a storm when a wave hit his car on Pacific Coast Highway at Solimar Beach. He hiked to a nearby home, where the occupant, Marilyn Lane, let him wait for a tow truck.

But her property was also at risk as the ocean continued to swell. Hagman grabbed his camera just in time as water began to pour through the door. The resulting photo won awards and was featured in publications around the world.

A woman in a white shirt attempts to close the doors to her home as sea water rushes in
On Jan. 30, 1998, Marilyn Lane attempts to close her doors to prevent a large wave from crashing into the living room of her Solimar Beach home.
(Alan Hagman / Los Angeles Times)

YOUR WEEKEND

— The biggest plant trends of 2021: gothic, weird and neon.

— The traveling seedling show Tomatomania is back with hundreds of tomato choices.

— Looking for some culture? Here are 21 online concerts, theater, art and other shows, plus six drive-in or otherwise socially distanced outdoor events.

— Maybe you’re not hosting a Super Bowl party this year, but you can still enjoy some chicken wings. Get The Times’ recommendations here. Or how about some frozen pizza? We’ve got you covered too.

CALIFORNIA

UCLA has shattered national records for freshman applications — and is on track to significantly widen access to underrepresented minorities — as the number of students seeking admission for fall 2021 soared.

— With a $3.65-million grant and a trove of Los Angeles Police Department records dating back decades, scholars at UCLA have launched a new archival project aimed at independently preserving and dissecting the history of mass incarceration in L.A.

Heavy rains along the Central Coast have triggered mudslides and debris flows this week. Earlier this month, winds at Yosemite National Park toppled 15 giant sequoias, causing “the most damage” measured in the park’s recorded history.

— For Gov. Gavin Newsom, there’s some good and some bad news from an expert on recall elections.

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NATION-WORLD

— Some QAnon adherents have concocted ever more elaborate stories to keep their faith alive after Trump’s defeat. Others are turning to therapy and online support groups to address the damage done when their beliefs collided with reality.

— Europe’s COVID-19 vaccines are in short supply and so is patience in the European Union as officials and citizens point fingers over who is to blame for the delays.

— A Russian court rejected opposition leader Alexei Navalny’s appeal against his arrest, as authorities detained several of his allies and issued warnings to social media companies about protests planned for this weekend.

Pakistan’s Supreme Court ordered the release of a Pakistani man convicted and later acquitted in the beheading of American journalist Daniel Pearl in 2002.

HOLLYWOOD AND THE ARTS

Cicely Tyson, known for her elegant stage presence and capturing the power and grace of Black women in America, has died.

— As an actor, Jared Leto is not a man of half measures. In the movie “Little Things,” he goes all out to heighten the creepiness.

Wendy Williams is the queen of “I don’t care.” How do you think she made it this far?

— Can studios compete with streaming services to buy this year’s Sundance hits? They’re going to try.

BUSINESS

— Trading platform Robinhood moved to restrict trading in GameStop and other stocks that have soared amid an aggressive buying campaign by small investors. But despite the industry panic, there’s nothing new about investors teaming up and setting off a frenzy, writes columnist Michael Hiltzik.

General Motors has set a goal of making the vast majority of the vehicles it produces electric by 2035.

SPORTS

— If Jared Goff goes, one of these quarterbacks could be the Rams’ 2021 starter.

Candace Parker might be leaving, but she will forever be a Spark, columnist Bill Plaschke writes.

Free online games

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

OPINION

Disabled people are disproportionately dying of COVID, writes Tim Jin, who serves on the board of Disability Voices United. California’s age-based vaccine policy must be altered to make them a priority.

— L.A. County voters elected George Gascón as district attorney to change the criminal justice system. Let him do it, The Times’ editorial board urges.

WHAT OUR EDITORS ARE READING

Corky Lee, a photographer and activist who documented New York’s Chinatown, has died of COVID-19 at age 73. (The Village Sun)

— The bizarre deaths of hikers at Russia’s Dyatlov Pass have inspired conspiracy theories, but science may have solved the mystery. (National Geographic)

— Maybe you can’t eat in the hotel restaurant these days. But you might be able to eat a meal from the hotel restaurant by yourself in a hotel room upstairs. (Eater)

ONLY IN L.A.

The Westin Bonaventure Hotel & Suites, with its elevators on the outside. The Triforium, a 60-foot-tall “polyphonoptic” sculpture. Wat Thai, the largest Thai Buddhist temple in L.A. County. The “Brady Bunch” house. All of these landmarks are from the 1970s. The Los Angeles Conservancy has three self-driving architectural tours showcasing buildings, cultural sites and landmarks from this pivotal (and groovy) decade.

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


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