I-Team investigates unanswered calls to EDD

Disabled worker June Mathews has spent the last month listening to a voice recording that says, "Thank you for calling the State Disability Insurance program." Then there are the automated menus, but she always gets the same response: "We're sorry, the maximum number of callers waiting to speak to a representative have been reached."

"I've heard that recoding on average eight to 10 times a day for a month," said Mathews.

Mathews is on disability for a shoulder injury and wants to know the status of her claim. Without a check from the state, she could be kicked of her house.

"For us not to be able to get any help, any assistance, no communication back on funds that we have paid into a system is very aggravating," said Mathews.

Another voice recording says, "We are unable to assist you at this time..."

"Sounds like you're going to be put through to an agent. They say they got too many phone calls, goodbye," said Dave, an unemployed worker.

"Dave" asked us not to use his last name so the state won't come after him for complaining. He's been unemployed since July and says repeatedly being told to call back is frustrating.

"If you don't make it through, if you don't contact them, they'll make the decision based on the information they have which will go presumably against you," said Dave.

Mathews and Dave are actually calling different phone systems run by the same state agency -- the Employment Development Department.

"The people in government, they must be aware of the problem and they appear to be ignoring the problem," said Dave.

They do know. A state audit in March 2011 first outlined the problems in the unemployment phone system and a follow-up audit last month confirmed the issues are very serious.

The audit says, "...of the 29.7 million calls in which individuals asked to speak with an agent, 24.9 million, or 84 percent, were unsuccessful."

"I think people have a lot of expectations that I call and someone's there to answer. Well, there are finite resources of staff," said EDD spokesperson Loree Levy.

Levy says that budget limitations and the volume of calls to the unemployment insurance line make it difficult to answer every call.

"The demand is overwhelming and we know that it's difficult sometimes to get through to a representative, but we're doing our best to make information available for our customers," said Levy.

Levy directs people to the EDD website, email and social media sites, and she has the same advice for people having trouble on the disability insurance line.

"Submit your questions to us online. Some people may not want to do that, but really it's that self-service help mode that will help us get caught up, makes sure this transition completes," said Levy.

She says they are behind because of a new automated system launched in November. The department is having trouble with the transition, so it is up to you to help them out.

"While yes, people are paying into the system, yes, they have expectations, we do need cooperation of our customers," said Levy.

Mathews says she tried emailing the EDD, but the response was basically the same one she got from the phone line. The response was: "Our volume is very high due to the high demand for our services. We ask for your patience."

"It's one of the reasons people don't trust or like government because they have personal experiences like this," said St. Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, D-Concord.

DeSaulnier says the large number of unanswered calls to a customer service agent is not acceptable. He thinks the problem might be the size the department and misunderstanding of who it serves.

"It just seems endemic in large public institutions in that people forget that there's expectation they're serving a client on the other end of the phone who may be going through much greater pain and suffering than you are," said DeSaulnier.

DeSaulnier tells us he'll bring this issue to the Labor and Industrial Relations Committee and meet with the director of EDD to get some answers.

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