Coronavirus Impact: California unemployment benefits delayed for many amid surge in applications

As California faces a massive surge in job losses, many are finding their unemployment benefits are delayed because of past problems on their records they didn't know about.
Jobless workers may be getting unwelcome news as they file for unemployment benefits.

The state Economic Development Department is struggling to keep up with the surge in applications and more people are getting notices that they have a past penalty that is putting their check on hold.

"If I don't get that I could lose my apartment. I've already had to cancel my health insurance," says David Cebula, a laid-off restaurant manager.

Workers advocacy groups have been inundated with calls.

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"Since the pandemic began, we've spoken to almost 1,000 workers," says Daniela Urban with Legal Aid at Work.

Urban says that many applicants may be unaware that there is a blot in their records such as an overpayment - receiving a check that they weren't entitled to.

Cebula says he received an overpayment notice nearly three years ago but he addressed it.

"They said that I was overpaid by one week, but I repaid that and the penalty interest on that so that it was cleared out," says Cebula.

It turns out a penalty also surfaces the next time there is an application. It can result in a hold on benefits that lasts for several months. Urban says EDD does not have the administrative power to clear a record on a past claim. An applicant has to go to another agency.

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"it would be through the California unemployment appeals board, but the process can be fairly lengthy," says Urban.

Today a dozen advocacy organizations sent a letter to Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California labor department and heads of the Workforce Development Agency, and the California Employment Development Department. It recommends streamlining the process and leniency for those with a past error.

"Usually those on unemployment are able to search for other work and that's just not the case right now. Everybody is out of work. So we believe that allowing these workers to get their benefits right away will help keep our economy moving forward and will allow these workers to continue to be able to have housing, food and other basic necessities that they desperately need right now," says Urban.

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