California Unemployment: EDD phone lines still jammed as department hires more call center staff

Michael Finney Image
Saturday, March 20, 2021
EDD hires call center staff, phone lines remain jammed
Californians desperate for answers about their unemployment benefits are still having trouble reaching a live person when calling the EDD's hotline, a year into the pandemic.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Matthew Kwok from San Francisco and had an EDD question, so he dialed the department's phone number.

"I was on hold for three hours and then by that time it was like around 8:15 p.m.," Kwok says. "I got a message on the call saying our center is closed now, so please call back again."

Calling, waiting and never getting through is a common complaint, but it is not the only gripe about the EDD phone system. Another is that the system hangs up on you not long after you start your call.

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The EDD ends your call with these words: "We are currently receiving more calls than we can answer and are unable to assist you at this time. Please try again later."

Kelly Altena from Auburn says, "You don't even get on hold. You just go through the phone tree and you can't get through."

7 On Your Side spot-checked the system over the last couple of weeks.

Eight times we were disconnected after a couple of minutes.

One call lasted more than 20 minutes and included being directed to a different phone number before the hang up.

VIDEO: Bay Area man loses all his benefits after returning EDD overpayment

A San Anselmo man tried to do right thing and return his overpayment money to EDD. He ended up losing all his benefits instead.

The one call that was answered, took less than a minute to get through.

Scott Rodd is the state government reporter at CapRadio in Sacramento. He knows all about the call center controversy.

"At the beginning of the pandemic when this wave of unemployment applications came through," Rodd says, "their call response time or their answering, was frankly pretty abysmal. It was about 1%, I think at times less than 1%, that they were answering the phone."

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Eventually the EDD hired more people, paid consultants tens of millions of dollars and Rodd says it reported it had managed to answer about ten percent of the incoming calls. Then fraud concerns surfaced and the answer rate dropped again.

"So you had 14 million calls coming in every couple of weeks and EDD in their call center was only answering about 4% of them," Scott says. "In recent weeks it's improved a little bit, but still remaining under that 10% mark as of right now."

Whether waiting on hold or just being disconnected, many of the unemployed can't get through. So, why can't EDD answer the phone?

San Francisco Assemblymember David Chiu still doesn't know why and he's been looking into the question for months.

"It's been a remarkable frustration," Chiu says. "We've given to EDD, in the past year, the budget authority to hire over 5,000 new staffers who I had understood were being trained since the early part of this pandemic. So we are baffled as to why it is still taking so long for our constituents to get answers to their questions."

We asked EDD for an interview. That has not yet occurred. 7 On Your Side will report back when we get some answers. The best advice we can offer is to just keep calling till you get through.

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