Citing ‘Dismal’ Response Times, Harder Pushes EDD to Resolve Service Problems

August 12, 2020
Press Release

Modesto, CA – After receiving complaints and concerns from dozens of constituents, Representative Josh Harder (CA-10) sent a letter to the California Employment Development Department (EDD) asking the agency to resolve the issues that have plagued the distribution of unemployment benefits. Some of Rep. Harder’s constituents still have not received their benefits after applying months ago and others have had to make repeated calls to the agency. This year’s failures in the distribution of benefits are the culmination of years of issues at EDD and a failure by the organization to successfully scale up to handle the extended unemployment benefits provided by Congress.

Although extended unemployment benefits expired at the end of July, many constituents still have not received any payment. Since the pandemic began, Rep. Harder’s office has helped over 1,000 people resolve issues at EDD. His office has also been told that EDD has directed constituents back to Rep. Harder’s office when they were unable to process paperwork.

This is now the second time that Rep. Harder has directly contacted the EDD Director to go to bat for his constituents who are waiting on delayed payments. Rep. Harder also voted for the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, which included nearly $1 billion to bolster state unemployment programs like EDD to guarantee they had the resources needed to meet the challenge of providing expanded benefits in a timely manner.

The text of the letter is below and an original copy is available here.

 

Dear Director Hilliard,

I am writing in reference to the 1.13 million unresolved unemployment claims at the Employment Development Department (EDD). I urge you to prioritize sending unemployment benefits out to these Californians that so desperately need assistance and streamlining the application process to minimize confusion and unnecessary errors that have contributed to the buildup of this backlog.

Months into this crisis, my staff and I are still on the phones with constituents who have yet to receive a single unemployment payment, some since March. My constituents need to pay their bills and feed their families. They are quickly running through their savings. The EDD reports that it requires two months — until the end of September — to process and pay approximately one-fifth of the workers in the current backlog. At this pace, payments to the remaining workers might not be completed until next year. Families in the Central Valley don’t have that kind of time.

During this pandemic and recession, Californians need to be able to focus on staying healthy and taking care of their families, not on navigating an unresponsive unemployment insurance system. One applicant estimates that she has called the EDD over 1,000 times and still has yet to receive her benefits. Another had to call over 600 times before reaching a real person. These cases are not aberrations. Hundreds of thousands of Californians are stuck in an endless limbo of calling and being ignored by the people whose job it is to help them. For individuals stuck waiting on a response, searching for new work or making informed plans becomes almost impossible.

EDD employees are just as frustrated as applicants. Both long-time EDD civil servants and people who were hired or transferred over from other departments are hampered by outdated technology, inefficient and chaotic organizational structure. Many received insufficient training and little to no support from superiors, and some don’t have access to information that isn’t already publicly available on EDD’s website. I urge you to take steps to improve responsiveness, expand the number of people who can truly assist applicants, and use the resources that Congress and the state have granted you to improve the dismal response times at your agency.

In light of this urgent crisis, please address the following questions:

  1. What steps will you and the agency take to increase the number of applications that can be processed by the end of September?
  2. How will the agency update Californians on the progress of their applications in a timely and transparent manner?
  3. What can be done to prevent disasters like this in the future and modernize EDD’s approach to unemployment insurance?

Thank you for your time and effort, and I look forward to your prompt response.