(Courtesy photo)

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Gov. Gavin Newsom recently announced that California will boost staffing at its Economic Development Department and extend a state unemployment call center’s hours to make it easier for residents to apply for unemployment benefits during the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Newsom signed an executive order extending the call center’s hours from 8 a.m. to noon Monday to Friday to seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. The call center, which has taken calls from state residents since 2013, began operating with its new hours on April 20.

Call center operators can answer questions in English, Spanish, Chinese and Vietnamese. Phone numbers for each language can be found at edd.ca.gov/unemployment/telephone_numbers.htm.

The department’s unemployment insurance division will also gain nearly 1,500 employees as outlined in the executive order. The state will reassign 740 EDD employees and 600 employees from other state government agencies and departments to support the efforts to bolster EDD staff.

“Many Californians are one paycheck away from losing their homes or from being able to put food on their tables, and COVID-19 has only made these challenges worse,” Newsom said. “California is focused on getting relief dollars and unemployment assistance in the hands of those who need it as quickly as possible.”

The EDD has maintained its frequency of about 21 days to process unemployment insurance claims, in spite of millions more applicants, according to Newsom. Roughly 2.7 million state residents have applied for unemployment insurance during the pandemic, he said.

On April 15, Newsom also announced a $125 million effort, including $75 million in state contributions, to support undocumented immigrants who have been affected by the pandemic. The state’s philanthropic partners, including the Emerson Collective and the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, have committed to supplying the additional $50 million.

While undocumented residents are ineligible for federal benefits during the pandemic, the $125 million fund will offer one-time $500 payments to undocumented adults with a cap of $1,000 per household. Applications are expected to open next month, according to Newsom.

“I’m not here to suggest that $125 million is enough, but I am here to suggest it’s a good start and I’m very proud of starting here in the state of California,” Newsom said.