SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Governor Gavin Newsom is making big promises about Employment Development Department (EDD), promises that can actually be quantified and qualified.
His actions involve a strike team of state officials, designed to help transform the customer experience into the digital age.
"There should be no barriers between Californians and the benefits they have earned," Newsom explained in a release, out Wednesday.
"Unprecedented demand due to job loss during this pandemic paired with an antiquated system have created an unacceptable backlog of claims. Californians deserve better, and these reform efforts aim to move the Department in that direction."
His office is estimating there could be about 1-million claims, eligible for benefits with added information.
Newsom's announcement is welcome news for Valerie Dean.
"I hope that it brings about action for so many people," Dean said. "I mean, I think that they're just completely overwhelmed, and I feel for the Employment Department employees."
Dean initially reached out to 7 on Your Side's Michael Finney for help.
After losing her job at a printing company because of COVID-19, EDD started paying her benefits.
However, the money stopped.
According to Dean, EDD flagged her for a different job, three years ago. The department told her she was overpaid then, deducting penalties from benefits this year.
She went seven weeks without a paycheck, before winning an appeal.
"I've been living on my credit cards, and I've gone through my savings and I've pushed off my car payment as far as I can," she described. "And I've pushed off my credit cards as far as I can."
Dean, a breast cancer survivor, is still undergoing treatment. She is hopeful the governor's help will get things back on track.
As explained in Wednesday's release, Newsom's action plan includes:
Deploy a strike team to modernize information technology programs and transform the customer experience.
The strike team will be supported by the California Department of Technology (CDT) and the Office of Digital Innovation (ODI). The strike team will identify steps to transform the unemployment insurance customer experience for the digital age. Within 45 days, the strike team will deliver a roadmap that outlines short-, mid- and long-term recommendations and solutions to transform the customer experience of applying for and receiving UI benefits.
Focus on immediately processing claims.
Prioritizing the oldest claims first, EDD is actively processing all claims in the "Pending Resolution" category and anticipates eliminating the backlog of actionable claims by the end of September. To assist with addressing the almost 1 million claims that may be eligible for payment with additional information, EDD will initiate immediate and weekly reminders to claimants to certify their claim. Going forward, EDD will work with the Legislature and advocates to create more user-friendly notifications and enhance the UI Online customer service experience.
EDD will also streamline the call center experience including an updated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) automation with the goal of routing a caller to a call center representative who has specialized training with that specific issue.
Enhancing partnership with the Legislature to improve communication with claimants.
Building on bi-weekly meetings with legislators and staff, EDD hopes to leverage the Legislature's unique ability to connect with their constituents to assist with improving communication with claimants. EDD will collaborate with legislators and staff to amplify EDD messaging regarding certification requirements - claimants need to certify every two weeks - this message needs to be more broadly shared on a regular basis, as well as work in partnership to adjust FAQs and responses to the common questions constituents have raised. Input from legislative offices has been integral for the department in identifying areas of focus and we look forward to working with the Legislature to improve the Department in the months to come.
Priority will go to the oldest claims first.
Although, Dean says she's unsure of where she stands, and has struggled to reach anyone with EDD.
"And the phone rang, and the phone rang and the phone rang for an hour and five minutes until it just stopped ringing," she told ABC7 News. "So, all that hope just kind of went away and I was kind of right back to where I started from."
Since March, EDD has processed more than 8-million unemployment insurance claims, and has distributed more than $49-billion in unemployment benefits.
According to Newsom's office, within 45 days, the strike team is expected to have a game plan to improve the system.
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