This story, by David Lightman, appeared June 2 in the Sacramento Bee
Have a problem with unemployment benefits? The first thing to do is NOT call the Employment Development Department.
Experts recommend you look at EDD’s website and videos, and if that doesn’t help, send a message through its Contact Us feature on its website.
If the question can’t be answered on the website, then try the phone line, advised Ginny Silver, who produces videos to help people deal with EDD. But don’t make that the first step.
“We recommend that claimants should avoid calling EDD,” said Daniela Urban, executive director of the Center for Workers’ Rights in Sacramento.
The call center is overwhelmed. During the week that ended May 22, it received 3.9 million calls coming from about 325,000 unique callers. The staff answered 233,134.
EDD has been handling unprecedented workloads since the COVID pandemic sent unemployment rates soaring 14 months ago. In that period, 22.5 million claims have been filed and $147 billion paid.
The big reason for the current deluge is that many claimants’ benefit years are ending. Their benefits have stopped, and they need to file a new claim. The agency has been moving to automate more of its workload, including streamlining the reapplication process to make it easier.
But experts warn that going through the website is also not necessarily a surefire way to get help. Urban says if people are having trouble with the online system, “We recommend reverting to the paper process.”
“The website can only do so much. Most who are trying to call in have their claims stuck in pending, not paid, or disqualified which requires the assistance of a representative to make any progress,” said Ginny Silver, a photographer and business coach whose YouTube channel pivoted during the COVID pandemic to help those navigate programs related to the crisis. If the website can’t answer a question, she said, try the phone line.
But it’s jammed....so what can one do?
Call your California representative
The Sacramento Bee has directed people to their local lawmakers for months, and has heard from many people it’s an effective way to get a problem heard. It is not EDD’s policy to direct people to General Assembly members.
To find your member, check http://findyourrep.legislature.ca.gov/. Members advise contacting only one representative; they’re already flooded with requests.
There is no assured way to get through to an EDD representative. Here’s what the office of Assemblyman David Chiu, D-San Francisco, advises constituents:
The EDD phone numbers, 1-833-978-2511 or 1-800-300-5616, go to the same center.
They operate from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. PDT. Best times to call seem to be around 10:15 a.m. or between 6 or 7 p.m.
To reach an EDD representative about an existing claim, try pressing 1 during the first recording, then press 2, then press 4. If you get disconnected, call back. Be patient.
It takes at least three weeks to process and pay when someone files a new claim if their benefit year has expired.
If it’s been more than three weeks since applying, and you want to know the status of the claim, ask the EDD staff member if they are a Tier 2 representative. They should be able to help you. Tier 1 staffers have only limited access to your account.
If the issue is more complicated, ask for an adjuster.
Look online for benefit help
Silver, whose videos with EDD content get about 1 million views each month, told The Bee that claimants should not expect quick results from the phones. “Right now most must spend several days calling a significant number of times in hopes of getting through - with some unable to get through altogether,” Silver said.
Once they connect, “many experience holding for several hours, only to be disconnected after a long wait and left to start the process all over again - an issue which I find reported to me several times an hour in my video comments,” she said.
Tuesday, Silver’s video asked people to comment on their experience with phone interviews. She sought details about the length of their wait and whether they were paid if the interview was canceled. Silver said she wants to bring the issue to the media’s attention.
EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy said the agency has begun offering to call back people who reach the phone queue, rather than have them wait on hold. The department also continues to hire hundreds of new permanent state staff who can process claims and get eligible people paid.
Consider help from autodialers
There are services that you can pay who will keep dialing for you.
While some consumers have found the service quite useful, others were skeptical of the idea.
“EDD’s system should work seamlessly without people having to share phone-hacks to actually reach a real person,” said Patterson, R-Fresno. “The reality is, people are still on hold for hours. They’re still being hung up on and still waiting for payments they should have gotten months ago.”
Thomas Buckley, a communications consultant who writes extensively about EDD, noted, “This isn’t some concert ticket that’s going to sell out in six minutes – this is about putting food on the table.”
The Bee tried to contact two autodial services and received no response.
Urban saw the autodial system as giving priority to people who are able to pay to reach EDD and not those who are most in need of telephone assistance.
Such autodial services are not official EDD programs and are not endorsed by either the State of California or the department. EDD feels these services can create “artificial” call traffic into EDD customer call lines.
No easy answers at EDD
Bottom line: There’s no simple way to get through to EDD. Agency officials say the recent deluge of calls has resulted from the expiration of the benefit year in many cases, as well as ongoing confusion about the many different unemployment insurance benefits.
Silver doesn’t see any quick fix.
To see real progress, she said, EDD would need to hire a huge number of staff members, provide proper training and fix the dropped call issues.
That training is important, Buckley said.
“The problem with the call center is not the lack of people, it’s the inability of those people to actually solve problems. Simply adding more bodies completely misses the point – it’s like a failing restaurant trying to improve its business by hiring 100 new waiters instead of just serving better food,” he said.
Levy said EDD is working on all those fixes.
Silver hopes so. “I don’t realistically see the call center issues easing until we see them make large strides in accomplishing these fixes,” she said.