CALISTOGA, Calif. (KGO) -- 7 On Your Side is reporting about the struggles of folks who lost their jobs in the coronavirus pandemic and never got their unemployment benefits. Now, we take a deeper look at what went wrong at EDD and the financial despair of so many.
It's a financial strain that might get worse next week, when the $600 extra per week in federal unemployment benefits will suddenly come to an end -- unless Congress acts quickly.
The help was supposed to come quick. Instead it didn't come at all. Many are up at night wondering how they'll survive, what they did wrong -- and all they get are automated replies from EDD.
"COVID-19 has created a big increase in the number of calls we receive. But we are here to help you as soon as possible," says the recording on the EDD phone help line.
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Ima Holcomb is on the EDD help line, going around in circles.
"For help with Form D3783, press three..." the recording continues.
She's been trying for hours, weeks, months to reach somebody -- anybody at EDD.
"To reopen a claim, press five. Otherwise, press two," the recording intones.
"I don't know which option to pick," Holcomb says.
None of the choices seem likely to help.
"Please make an entry, or your call will be disconnected." The recording then lets out a beep.
"Just having a single person to talk to! I'm not given the opportunity to engage a person who can look at what happened," says Holcomb, frustrated.
Holcomb was laid off from her marketing job for Napa Valley wineries. She made one mistake on her EDD form.
It seemed minor.
It proved fatal.
"I made an error by one day, one date in May," Holcomb says.
She was laid off on the twenty-second, not the twenty-first. She emailed EDD right away to fix it. Instead, the EDD said she "made a false statement," and slapped her with penalties.
She's received no benefits at all.
"They are accusing me of wrongdoing. I made a mistake. I own the mistake, and now you're penalizing me for it? For me it's hurtful and degrading because truly... live my life trying to do the right thing," says Holcomb, tearing up.
"I had lots of bookings all year." Jacqueline Knapp's face painting business was just taking off, when the pandemic hit.
"All canceled immediately because of COVID," Knapp says.
In her EDD application, Jacqueline admitted she isn't working. It's not possible.
"Face painting -- you can't have the mask, plus you have to be closer than six feet away. No matter how you look at it, you can't do it," says Knapp.
Gig workers are eligible for benefits. Yet EDD disqualified her. No explanation. No money. At age 74, she's struggling.
"I'm definitely running out of money and desperately need to get hold of EDD," she says.
Melissa Gutierrez was laid off as a bartender when the pandemic forced local bars to shut down. Yet she was disqualified too.
"And I have no idea why," Gutierrez says.
She's haunted by one answer she put on her EDD form. "It asked me if I was looking for work. I put 'no' because of shelter in place."
Was that her fatal mistake?
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"I even wrote handwritten letters," she says.
No response from EDD.
Which brings us back to Holcomb. She's now trying the new EDD help line. After 26 minutes on hold, a "real voice!"
"They said I filed a false statement... why have I not been able to resubmit my -- you have no idea?" Holcomb says on the phone.
Turns out the new help line is only for tech support. They do not work for the unemployment division of California.
"It's frustrating at best," Holcomb says.
We asked EDD why they were not getting benefits when they seem clearly eligible -- and financially devastated. On Friday, we'll show you the results of those inquiries.
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Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.