Coronavirus Q&A: Why can't I get through to apply for unemployment?

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Unemployment claims in California reached an astronomical, historic level last week. The Employment Development Department reports nearly 900,000 workers filed claims in one week ending on Saturday.

Unemployed workers, already panicked with bills due and no paychecks, are struggling to get through to file claims. They heard about the federal money to expand benefits -- but encountered jammed phone lines and internet portals.

Be sure to ask Michael your questions on Facebook or Twitter for him to answer on air!

James asks: I have tried to file my unemployment claim via phone, online and mobile, all overloaded. How do I get through?
Mike asks: Unemployment Department is choked with calls. It is all but impossible to get through. Why don't they extend hours?
Answer: The EDD says it's pulling out all the stops. It's true, phone lines operate only from 8 a.m. to noon. You can apply online up until 10 p.m. The EDD says it must close services to clear a backlog and avoid a website crash. But it's called in the troops: nearly 1,000 folks reassigned to process applications. Their best advice is to keep trying -- and to also use the EDD's mobile app to apply.

RELATED: California EDD reports surge of 900,000 unemployment claims in a week

Many of you also are wondering where are those new gig worker benefits.

Carrie asks: I thought the stimulus package would allow independent contractors to file for unemployment benefits. All I can find is low-interest SBA loans on the government websites.
Answer: The package does indeed include gig worker benefits. You are entitled to regular state benefits as well as the $600 per week flat pay. However, the EDD tells us it's still waiting for direction from the U.S. Department of Labor on how to process those claims and get your money to you. For now, the EDD advises you to use the form for traditional Unemployment Claims.

Steven asks: Can I get unemployment if I'd been looking for a job for a 5 months before this happened and hadn't signed up?
Answer: Steven, you may be entitled to payments too. Part of the bill is called Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. It provides up to 39 weeks of benefits to those who otherwise wouldn't be eligible -- including those who didn't work enough to qualify.

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