CALISTOGA, Calif. (KGO) -- The extra $600 per week in federal unemployment benefits is slated to end this week. And still there are thousands in California who haven't received any benefits at all.
UNEMPLOYMENT IN CA: Here's why thousands are still not getting EDD benefits
Frustration with the EDD is mounting. Complaints are pouring in to 7 On Your Side. Michael Finney has been investigating what's gone wrong at EDD.
We've looked at hundreds of cases and virtually all appear to be clearly entitled to benefits. Yet folks run into brick walls at EDD - and some say they may never fully recover.
After months with no income, tens of thousands of Californians still have not received any unemployment benefits.
"I must've called them hundreds of times and I would not get hold of anybody," said Melissa Gutierrez, who was laid off from her job as a bartender in Berkeley when shelter-in-place order shut down bars across the state.
"The day I was laid off I opened my claim. The next Monday, it was gone. That happened to me four weeks in a row," said Patricia Tierney, who lost her job as an office manager at a private school that shut down due to the pandemic.
It's a never-ending stream of frustration as unemployed workers are running out of money.
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"It goes around and around and around and nothing,'' said Robert Leppert of Vacaville, who was laid off from his job as a printer at Staples.
"I'm fully eligible for unemployment. I've worked 40 years of my life and - I'm sorry but it's very upsetting,'' Ima Holcomb of Calistoga broke into tears as she recounted how she lost her job at a trade association for Napa Valley wineries as a direct result of the pandemic. "EDD doesn't believe it,'' she says, wiping tears.
Their jobs gone, savings wiped out, emotions raw, and all they get are automated responses from the EDD.
Holcomb demonstrates a typical phone call to EDD, as she tries to get answers. It starts with a familiar recording: "Welcome to the Employment Development Department's unemployment insurance online assistance center...'' it begins. "To better serve you, our new expanded contact center hours are 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week..."
After two minutes of explaining all the services the phone line will provide, there is a pause and then: "We are currently receiving more calls than we can answer, and are unable to assist you at this time. Please try again later."
It hangs up. Only a beeping sound on the other end.
"As you can imagine, this is extremely frustrating,'' Holcomb said.
"Not once have I reached a human being who was alive,'' Leppert said in recounting his own frustrations.
Tierney had the same kind of experience.
"I kept calling because I thought there was something wrong with their system," Tierney said as she struggled to find out why her EDD claim kept disappearing off the website. She has received no money.
"You've got to be put in a queue and wait three months to hear back," Holcomb said. After 48 minutes on hold one day, someone picked up the line. Her elation quickly evaporated when the person said she was unable to help, someone would get back to her within 60 business days. That means possibly not until September.
"That does no good at all! What do I do in the meantime?" exclaimed Holcomb.
Not only that, the EDD warned that she should carry her phone everywhere and be sure to pick up or she would fall out of the queue for call-backs. The caller ID would say NO CALLER ID.
"You have to literally have your phone 'on you' whether you're in the bathroom or the doctor's office," she said.
After losing their jobs, unable to find out why they can't get benefits, many are reaching financial desperation.
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"I'm just getting nervous now because I'm looking at every dime I spend," said Tierney, who cares for her 100-year-old mother and a son with a chronic illness. She gave him his last seizure pill last week, with no way to buy more.
"And I saw at one of the local schools they had, they're giving out groceries," Tierney said. "I've never had to do that in my life. It's kind of embarrassing, but pretty soon I won't be able to go to the grocery store, so I might get in the line."
And others are similarly in dire straits.
"My savings account is gonna be depleted," Holcomb said. "And I'm gonna have to dip into my 401(k) which I wasn't planning to do till I retire. The ripple effect impacts the rest of my life."
"I can't pay my car note, my rent, just trying to make sure I don't get homeless," Gutierrez, the laid-off bartender, said. "I'm nervous, I'm scared."
She took out a high interest loan of $3,000. She now owes $10,000 on the loan. And she has let other bills lapse, which has now ruined her credit rating.
"I remember the last dollar I spent from my cash, you know how you put your cash in a jar..." Gutierrez said. "I think I used it to buy toilet paper or the last kibble for my dog."
State Senator Scott Wiener has been a vocal critic of the EDD's handling of unemployment claims that were supposed to come quickly.
"People are struggling to pay their rent, put food on the table for their families," Wiener said. "They're going through a tough time and they're entitled to these benefits and it is completely unacceptable that so many people have not received their benefits so long after applying for it."
The EDD admits it wasn't ready for the onslaught of claims, with a small staff, an old computer system and no warning of the crisis ahead.
Now it's a patchwork of fixes.
"We have hired or at least extended conditional offers to more than 4,300 people to come on board and helps as the EDD," said Loree Levy, spokesperson for EDD.
Yet jobless workers say the newly-hired workers aren't trained or authorized to solve problems.
"They've hired all these people who can't resolve it, can't answer the phone," Leppert said.
"I finally got through and the woman said 'I can't help you, I'll transfer you,' and then the woman I was transferred to said I don't know why you transferred her to me, I know less than she does," Tierney said, laughing and shaking her head.
EDD reports it has processed 8.2 million claims since March 14. About 4.2 million workers have received benefits over the past four weeks - a number described as a "rolling total.''
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EDD has no numbers on how many claims were rejected, or how many unemployed residents are still waiting for benefits.
"At this point, I don't know if I'm confused," Holcomb said. "I know I'm unemployed, and I know it's directly caused by the coronavirus, but I'm still not getting the benefits they promised."
"That's why I called you guys," Leppert said, referring to 7 On Your Side - a plea echoed by Gutierrez.
"I just feel helpless," Gutierrez said. "I thought maybe I could get some answers with Michael Finney or 7 on Your Side."
And we are finding answers about each of these cases. We'll be taking a deeper look at what's gone wrong at the EDD - including some good news about what can work for those who still have no benefits.
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