Scott Wilk | ‘Check in the Mail’ Isn’t Enough

Sen. Scott Wilk

The check’s in the mail just doesn’t cut it in these unprecedented times; but that is about all millions of Californians know about the whereabouts of their unemployment claims when trying to break through the wall of silence at California’s Employment Development Department (EDD).

I imagine every legislative office has hundreds of unemployment-related constituent case files open because of EDD’s inability to handle the case load. This includes unanswered phones, delays in processing claims, reinstating accidentally dropped claims and a host of other heartbreaking issues. The backlog of claims, once measured in weeks, is now measured in months. 

This is a monumental failure of government when Californians need it most. 

Which is why, earlier this week, in a bipartisan effort to help Californians, Sen. Melissa Hurtado, D-Schaffer, and I asked Gov. Gavin Newsom to implement an emergency workaround to the failed IT systems that are severely hampering EDD’s ability to do its job.

We believe Gov. Newsom should issue an executive order to keep EDD phone lines and operations open and fully staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week until this backlog has been addressed. 

Recent orders to re-close much of the state will further exacerbate EDD’s failure to address its current workload and, we fear, without drastic actions, the agency will continue to fall further and further behind – leaving millions of Californians teetering on the brink of ruin. 

I am sure my office is not the only one with a front-row seat to this complete failure by government. These claims come from the people in every California industry – farm workers, hairdressers, men and women from every business on Main Street, as well as from our more glamorous industries like the film and gig industries

EDD’s long history of technological problems has been exacerbated by the surge of Californians applying for unemployment during the pandemic, but in our opinion, that means the state has to work harder to solve the problem. While we acknowledge and appreciate the work of the many employees at EDD, the reality is they need help getting things back on track.

The technological problems EDD has encountered cannot possibly be fixed in the time frame needed to help our constituents, so we are asking the governor to think outside the box and get the job done another way.

The backlog and delay in claims processing at the California Employment Development Department (EDD) have been the subject of many media reports and have made the governor’s noon press briefings on more than one occasion with little to show for it. Meanwhile our offices are working tirelessly to connect people to the help they are entitled to, and in many cases have been waiting for since early spring. The backlog is worsening. 

A High Desert mother and daughter told my office that, after unsuccessfully trying every day for over six weeks to get through on the phone lines, they tag-teamed their phone calling, hitting redial for eight hours straight before finally getting someone to pick up the phone. Sadly, far too many times the person answering the phone will not even have the authority to access claims. This complete failure of government would be disturbing any time, but during our current economic crisis, it is a disgrace.

Rising jobless claims, technological failures and blunders at the California Employment Development Department continue to leave millions of unemployed Californians without help when they need it most. Of the more than 5.8 million Californians who have filed for unemployment since March 17, 37.5 % have not received an answer to their claim. 

It doesn’t take an economist to understand that very few Californians have months and months of living expenses tucked away for a rainy day. Our high cost of living prevents most from saving more than a minimum amount in a good year, let alone during a pandemic-induced economic crisis.

These backlogs must be addressed and made a priority if we are to avoid sinking hard-working people and their families into poverty and homelessness through no fault of their own. Wearing masks, hand-washing and avoiding crowds may help us re-flatten the curve but nothing short of rectifying the backlog at EDD will actually help the millions of unemployed Californians struggling to put food on the table while waiting for their money to come through. 

While the statewide unemployment average sits around 15%, in L.A. County, it is 19.5% and in parts of the southern Central Valley, it is upward of 24%, well above the state average. 

While Californians struggle to make ends meet, the very least their government can do is put in the man-hours necessary to straighten this out. Frankly, this is not the time to sit back and wait for EDD to catch up. This is the time for decisive action and leadership. 

While we navigate these unprecedented times, we must look to unprecedented solutions to ensure Californians do not fall further into financial insecurity. 

As the Sacramento Bee headline noted, “Gov. Newsom promised progress for California’s unemployment office — but many can’t see it.” Maybe with this push we will see some results and Californians will actually finally put that check in their pockets.

Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, represents the 21st Senate District, which encompasses the Antelope, Santa Clarita and Victor valleys.

Related To This Story

Latest NEWS