Callers experience problems with EDD

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If you lose your job, who you going to call? If it's the /*Employment Development Department*/, or EDD, prepare yourself for a long wait.

"Thank you for calling the Employment Development Dept. We are currently receiving more calls than we can answer," said an EDD phone message.

That's the message Michael Copenhaver received over and over and over again each time he called the EDD.

It was the same message Rafaat Halabi got when he called.

Michael originally filed his claim in February. He estimates EDD already owes him $1,400. That's money he says he could use now for his upcoming wedding.

"It's a big stress. I've had to borrow money from friends and parents. And every resource possible because I'm not getting that steady income that I was counting on," said Copenhaver.

Michael and Rafaat's experiences are not unusual. By EDD's own count, callers got 42 million busy messages in January.

That was cut in half to 20 million in February and to about 14 million last month.

"We are just seeing an unprecedented demand for unemployment insurance benefits," said Loree Levy from EDD.

The EDD says it processed 525,000 initial claims alone in January -- the most it says in the nation, and more than New York and Florida combined.

With state unemployment above 10 percent, the stress on the system is understandable, but a state senator says the EDD should have been better prepared.

"The state auditor told us in 2001, that we should have a system made for these types of times, and yet we sat on this report and nothing was ever implemented," said State Senator Dean Florez (D) Shafter.

The EDD says 99 percent of people can file their claims on line. It suggests frustrated callers e-mail their questions by going to their website.

But both Rafaat and Michael have told us the response by e-mail can also be slow. The agency has added Saturday hours and is in the process of hiring 850 new people.

"Hopefully that will alleviate some of the strain I should say on our phone center system," said Levy.

"I think they're trying. I think it's too little too late to some degree," said Copenhaver.

EDD says its custom busy message is an alternative to callers getting a busy signal. Each time the message plays, the state pays Verizon up to five cents. The state paid $2 million for the service in January alone, but recently negotiated a $3 million rebate from Verizon. Meantime, Rafaat is now receiving unemployment benefits and Michael should be getting his money soon.

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