“Everything that should be up is up and everything that should be down is down,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said in January when lifting California’s regional stay-at-home order.
Today, that statement holds true for many aspects of California’s pandemic response — vaccinations are up, infections are down, hospitalizations are down — but rings hollow when it comes to the state unemployment department, where numbers are trending in the wrong direction. According to figures released Thursday, the Employment Development Department’s backlog of unresolved claims had ballooned to 1.08 million as of May 1, up from 1.05 million the week before and 1.03 million the week before that. The logjam has contained more than 1 million claims for 13 straight weeks.
Around 450,000 of those claims are pending EDD action, while the remainder are awaiting certification from jobless Californians, according to agency documents. But residents have long said jammed phone lines and tech glitches have hampered them from certifying claims, and data shows EDD’s call center is also going in the wrong direction. The agency answered less than 6 percent of the 4.8 million calls it received from April 24 to May 1, with each person calling about 12 times in an attempt to get through. That’s significantly worse than in late March, when EDD answered 10.5 percent of calls and each person called about eight times.
“My office has been receiving countless calls from desperate constituents, many of whom are in tears, some of whom are on the brink of homelessness and even some of who have threatened suicide,” said Assemblymember David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat.
Lawmakers this week recommended rejecting Newsom’s budget proposal to create a new Department of Better Jobs and Higher Wages within the state labor agency, noting that “a new bureaucracy” wouldn’t help reduce the claim backlog. EDD, apparently cognizant of the Legislature’s mounting frustration, published this week a list of new tools and resources to improve customer service.
Newsom also appears aware that EDD is a liability. The same day Secretary of State Shirley Weber said enough signatures had been gathered to force a recall election, the governor’s unemployment fraud task force announced it had arrested 68 people and opened another 1,641 cases.