EDD to issue 'conditional payments' to clear backlog, but critics remain skeptical

LOS ANGELES (KGO) -- As we reported, the EDD is about to sweep clean the backlog of claims - and pay thousands of unemployed workers who've been waiting weeks and months for benefits.

The plan has met with joy and a bit of skepticism.

This is cautious optimism. Thousands of workers say they verified their identity, and received one payment, then it all stopped. Now EDD says it's going to automatically pay those who've been waiting more than two weeks for benefits. Workers say they'll believe it when they see it.

RELATED: California EDD adopts 'pay now' policy, will begin paying benefits to qualified claimants Friday

"It's been crazy. I mean, they just stopped payments and wanted me to verify this, verify that -- I did, multiple times." Oscar Alcaraz says the EDD suddenly cut off his unemployment benefits last year -- with no explanation.

"So when you can't get work because of the quarantine, and you can't do this and you can't do that because of the pandemic, and you still not getting money, it causes a problem. A really big problem," Alcaraz said.

Alcaraz says he verified his identity four times, certified for benefits 48 times - but a year later, his payments are still listed as "pending."

Now he's homeless, living on a friend's couch.

"I can't do anything right now, I'm broke..." he said.

Several state lawmakers applauded the EDD's plan to start automatically paying workers who have waited weeks or more for benefits.

RELATED: Private EDD survey shows users are 'completely or mostly satisfied' despite complaints

"It's a huge relief that people across the board are finally getting help, finally getting their money," said State Senator Josh Becker (D - Menlo Park).

"The idea is to get that money, of which there is plenty of, from state and federal sources into the hands of people who need it. We don't want anyone else to be homeless," said State Senator Dave Cortese (D - San Jose).

The EDD admits it still has a backlog of more than 200,000 claims. It froze many accounts while trying to clear up questions about eligibility.

Long delays caused many to run out of money, lose their homes and slide into debt.

Now the EDD said it will stop freezing those accounts.

So, as many as 200,000 workers should start receiving benefits, including back pay.

RELATED: IRS sending out refunds to taxpayers who overpaid on unemployment benefits

However, if the EDD later finds they are not eligible for benefits, they may have to pay the money back.

The plan raised concern about potential fraud, after EDD doled out up to $31 billion dollars last year to imposters filing phony claims.

"This is a stunning admission that they can't do their fundamental task. Now to clear their giant backlog, they're going to take the dangerous risk of paying fraudsters too," said State Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R - Fresno).

However, the EDD said it's only paying those who have already verified their identity, and were cleared by EDD's automated fraud filter. Those precautions were not in place last year.

"We could not have done this previously but now we have fraud measures in place. These are people who have already been IDed, these are procedural issues," said Sen. Becker.

"The risk of fraud here is much lower but the benefit to people who can pay their rent and put food on the table is very high," said State Senator Scott Wiener (D - San Francisco).

RELATED: Insiders say California EDD unemployment benefit scam was get-rich-quick scheme

Others were skeptical EDD will come through for those in need. Officials warn it could take weeks to roll out payments.

"Whenever it comes to EDD promising something, we always approach it with skepticism because we've been burned before, so we're just going to wait and see," said Sen. Wiener.

"I think we should all reserve judgment till these folks get their money..." said Sen. Cortese.

Alacaraz says he can only hope. "I'm just in a state of shock right now, it's like a state of awe."

"I can't keep hanging my head like this. I gotta believe something's gotta give, something's gotta change," he said.

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

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