SONOMA, Calif. (KGO) -- 7 On Your Side has been reporting on the struggles of folks who lost their jobs in the coronavirus pandemic, and never got their unemployment benefits. Complaints about EDD are still pouring in, many desperate for help. On top of that, the $600 weekly supplement ends *today.* However, amid the gloom, a reason for hope.
We've heard so many horror stories, so much frustration: folks can't get benefits, can't find out why, and they're running out of money for rent and food. But as many were about to give up, they came to 7 On Your Side.
The chorus of voices told the same tale.
"You just keep calling all day long," Patricia Tierney of Sonoma, said of EDD.
"I still don't know why I was disqualified. I wrote them an email..." Melissa Gutierrez of Oakland said. "They said they would respond in 7 to 10 business days. That was in April." And no, no one at EDD responded.
"'You will be notified by mail of your eligibility...' Well pfft," said Robert Leppert of Vacaville, who was laid off from a job at Staples. He never heard a word, nor did he receive any money.
"It's very very frustrating, and it's just kind of like they have the right to do that and block people without a reason," said Jacqueline Knapp of San Carlos, a self-employed face painter. Her business was just taking off when the pandemic hit, and her events were canceled.
"So yes. Am I frustrated? Yes." Ima Holcomb of Saint Helena said. She was laid off as a receptionist at a Napa Valley winery trade association. The company downsized when tasting rooms and wineries closed under shelter-in-place orders.
They all lost their jobs in the pandemic. Yet none received any benefits. All they got from EDD were automated responses -- over the phone and online.
Now, months without income, emotions run high.
"I'm getting nervous now because I'm looking at every dime I spend," said Tierney.
"Just my rent, try not to get homeless," Gutierrez worried. "I remember using the last dollar of cash in -- you know how you keep money in a jar?"
"Yes, my savings are all going to be depleted,'' Holcomb said.
Melissa Gutierrez was laid off as a bartender when bars were ordered to shut down. Isn't she a slam dunk for unemployment?
We asked EDD -- then, a surprise.
"I'm like this is happening. I'm okay now. I'm gonna be okay. This is a big relief," she said.
EDD finally processed her claim -- finally gave her benefits.
Some of the others got them, too.
"I couldn't believe it. The next day all of the funds were in my account," said Tierney. "All the money is there, I was shocked."
"I am now fully qualified for EDD," said Holcomb. "I finally have been treated like a human being."
Knapp also was approved for benefits as a self-employed worker, a newly eligible category.
"Within five minutes it was resolved. She (an EDD employee) went in, it was an error, she hit a couple buttons," Knapp said. At age 74, she had been living solely on a small Social Security income, hardly enough for life in the Bay Area.
"And I am just so thrilled it makes a huge difference in how I live my life. it's a big difference for a low-income senior,'' she said.
The arrival of long-delayed assistance came as a huge relief to others, too.
"I didn't believe it, now I'm believing it," Gutierrez said. She had taken out a high-interest loan of $3,000. She now owes $10,000 -- and owed back rent, car payments, and credit cards.
"It's the best thing that could have happened to me right now," said Holcomb, who was worried she may have to tap into her 401(k). "It has a ripple effect for my whole life."
"People couldn't believe it either when iI told them the money was in my account. So all the money is there; I was shocked," Patricia Tierney said.
So what worked for all of these folks?
Melissa Gutierrez: "Just keep trying, keep calling, keep on them."
Persistence. And contacting 7 on Your Side.
"Don't give up, keep trying. Call 7 On Your Side 'cause they are on your side," Gutierrez said.
"It was 7 On Your Side calling attention to all of the people in desperate situations,'' Holcomb said. "Your research and investigation, being the squeaky wheel, forcing the EDD to look at our cases."
7 On Your Side brought all of their cases to EDD's attention, asking why they were not getting benefits even though they appeared to be clearly eligible. EDD would not reveal details about each case, citing privacy reasons. But in each case, it appears some computer glitch, unexplained flag on an account, or "wrong" answer on the EDD application may have blocked their benefits. In Tierney's case, the online application kept disappearing off the website. Tierney kept trying to reopen it, only to have it fall off and then stop responding.
As for Gutierrez, she believes she was disqualified because she answered a question to the best of her ability. It asked whether she was looking to return to work. She said "no" because of the shelter in place orders that prevented bars from opening. She's still not sure if that was her fatal flaw, though EDD did unlock her benefits.
In Holcomb's case, the EDD stopped her payments with a notation that cryptically said "false statement penalty week." There was never any explanation for why that was noted on her account, or what that might refer to. And no one would answer her questions. Whatever it was, it stopped her benefits until we asked EDD about her case. Someone from the agency called Holcomb and verified that she lost her job due to the pandemic. Her benefits were restored.
Other tips from others who finally broke through:
- Be persistent.
- If EDD denies your claim, it should also mail you an appeal form. You should file the appeal, and be as specific as possible about how COVID-19 caused your loss of jobs, or reduced hours. Several viewers report this did work for them.
- If EDD does not mail you the appeal form (which happened to Knapp, the face-painter) write a hand-written letter to EDD stating that you were denied and this letter constitutes your appeal. (A different viewer wrote in with this tip, and she got her benefits, though she's not sure if that's what did it.)
- EDD is imploring folks not to jam the phone lines. However, many people say the only way they got their issues resolved was to speak with a representative -- and one with knowledge. Many of the 4,000-plus newly hired representatives are still in training and can only give basic information that you probably already know.
- Be ready for a lot of frustration and waiting on hold. There are two phone lines. The main number: 1-800-300-5616. Plus, there is a general assistance, technical support line: 1-833-978-2511. The main number has live agents only from 8 a.m. till noon, and callers report it usually hangs up on you saying call volume is too high. However, if you keep trying, it eventually may let you wait for the next available agent. The general assistance number has folks who can only answer basic questions or give technical support. We tried that line with one viewer, and it took an hour to get through. Then, the person told her she doesn't work for EDD! She was just a tech support provider.
- Some viewers suggested that when you get the phone tree, hit the pound key rather than listening to all options, or request service in Spanish to get through faster. This is strictly anecdotal.
Finally, here is what 7 On Your Side is doing to help. We have been connecting viewers with their state legislators and with EDD. We are presenting the issues each person faces to the EDD and legislative representatives. Between all of us, we hope to get everyone the benefits they are entitled to.
We are also airing the stories of many of our viewers who are stuck in limbo, hoping to bring attention to this issue on a broader level. Governor Gavin Newsom is now expected to announce some sweeping changes at EDD this week. We'll be reporting on that.
As well, we'll keep you up to date on the fate of the $600 federal supplement which expires at the end of July. Effectively that means July 25 for California since that's the last week-ending pay period in July.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.