Coronavirus California: Eligible unemployed workers shut off from benefits due to EDD website issues

RICHMOND, Calif. (KGO) -- More than 36 million Americans have filed for unemployment benefits, but studies indicate millions more have been unable to apply, or gave up trying.

More than 4 million Californians have applied for benefits, but two months after the shutdown, untold numbers are still waiting for their chance to claim some badly-needed money.

The economy was humming along briskly with plenty of jobs, booming business, and then -- the pandemic.

RELATED: California unemployment benefits still out of reach for thousands of self-employed and gig workers

A record-low unemployment rate soared to a record high, practically overnight.

Congress acted quickly to expand unemployment benefits, adding $600 a week to the payments, and nearly anyone eligible if they lost work.

And yet, two months later, millions are still waiting for relief.

James Pacheco of Richmond has yet to receive a penny -- even though he was laid off two months ago. He says the EDD website keeps shutting him out. "I was furloughed on March 18 and I immediately went online to apply," he said.

"So I started phoning. I made no less than 50, 75 phone calls at two o'clock in the morning, five o'clock in the morning, three in the afternoon. Didn't make any difference. I would get the runaround on the phone with the recorder saying do this, do that, then 'due to overwhelming calls' or something to that effect, we're unable to take your call, goodbye," Pacheco continued.

RELATED: California extending unemployment benefits: Here's who qualifies and how it works

Ben Zipperer of the Economic Policy Institute says unemployment systems were built to scrutinize each claim and weed out fraud - not to handle a flood of claims by newly-eligible workers. "There are still millions of people who could apply for unemployment benefits if the process were easier," he said.

And EDD has been slow to adapt to a pandemic when millions need money fast.

"The systems were not built for this at all, for a crisis where up to 30 million people have lost their jobs. Ostensibly they're concerned about fraudulent claims, but now is the wrong time for that to be a major concern. We need to make it as easy as possible for people to apply and receive benefits as quickly as possible... pay now and verify later," Zipperer said.

Pacheco was managing an auto repair shop in the East Bay when the pandemic hit. The shop closed. Now he's running out of cash and worried about eviction.

"Help me, give me an avenue in which I can find a way to file a claim... since March 18th I have no income," he said.

RELATED: California Unemployment: Residents struggle to get answers as to why they apply but don't get benefits

It turns out James had exhausted unemployment benefits from an old claim last year. Traditional rules say he must wait a year to be eligible again.

The CARES Act erased those time limits, extending benefits for everyone.

However, the EDD website has yet to catch up. It still gives Pacheco a message saying, "You have received all benefits payable to you at this time. You cannot file another claim... until your benefit year ends."

"I'm just sitting here saying, okay, I'm falling between the cracks. Job hunting has become even harder. All I can do is stay calm and try to push through this," Pacheco said.

Pacheco came to 7 On Your Side -- we gave him a bit of good news. Starting one week from Wednesday, the EDD website will open up to those who need an extension. You'll be able to get benefits, including that extra $600 per week.



Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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