Several California lawmakers, including Sen. Scott Wilk, R-Santa Clarita, and Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, have called for an audit of the state’s Employment Development Department to clarify major delays in allotting benefits to residents, many of whom applied months ago.
The department has received bipartisan disapproval from the Legislature of its handling of claims throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, which has also resulted in calls for Gov. Gavin Newsom to take immediate steps in improving the jobless claims process. In April, Wilk and six other GOP senators wrote a letter requesting such acts from the governor after receiving calls from constituents about dropped calls, busy lines and delays in acquiring benefits.
However, the agency continues to be months behind processing claims, Wilk said.
Since March 14, the EDD processed 6.7 million unemployment benefits requests and, to date, the unemployment rate reached 16.3%, which was slightly lower than the record high in April (16.4%) but still higher than the 12.3% during the height of the Great Recession, according to state data. Santa Clarita’s unemployment rate reached 20% and it hit 20.6% in Los Angeles County in May.
With one in six Californians are still unemployed despite the economy reopening, lawmakers have penned a letter on June 26 to Rudy Salas, the chairman of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee, requesting an audit of the EDD to address delays.
“My staff has been working round the clock to help constituents navigate a completely broken system. These delays are jeopardizing millions of Californians’ ability to put food on the table and a roof over their heads,” said Wilk in a prepared statement. “I am personally tired of bureaucratic excuses and want to find out exactly what the heck is going on over there.”
Tens of thousands of constituents have called their representatives and have yet to receive payment or explanation from the EDD since March, said lawmakers including Assemblywoman Christy Smith, D-Santa Clarita.
“My team is stepping up and has successfully gotten many people through the system, but we can’t do it alone. EDD must do better, act more quickly, and the administration and Legislature must prioritize more systemic improvements to the department,” she said in a prepared statement.
The audit request includes questions on technology updates, statistics on pending vs. closed cases, length of time cases have been open and the status of a $30-million technology upgrade.
On April 15, Newsom announced the Unemployment Insurance branch would increase its staff with 1,340 employees, including 740 EDD workers and an additional 600 state workers to expedite benefits through a new call center, operating seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.