230K still wait for EDD benefits, millions still jam call center

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The state of California may be reopening today, but the troubled Employment Development Department isn't exactly flinging open its doors. Problems with fraud and delayed benefits plagued the department for 15 months. What's changed?

All year, the EDD call center was jammed; claims piled up, fraudsters made off with the money. With all the talk about updating the systems at the EDD, today it's still a little like looking into the past.

"Thank you for calling the Employment Development Department..." intoned the recording.

This was Ima Holcomb last July, trying all day to reach someone at the EDD.

The recording continued: "We're currently getting more calls than we can answer, and are unable to assist you at this time." The line beeps and then hangs up.

"Second hangup, I'll try again," said Holcomb.

She never did find out what happened to her claim.

RELATED: Judge says Bank of America may have illegally denied EDD fraud claims

Ten months later, here's Amanda Sanchez calling the EDD: "Thank you for calling the Employment Development Department..."

And Michael Gumora: "We're here to help and have significantly ramped up our ability..." the recording said.

Both were trying to call the EDD just last week.

"And there you have it," said Gumora. "All day from 8 in the morning till six, just (dialing motion), know what I mean? Nothing."

"It's absolutely ridiculous. it's not fair," said Sanchez. "It takes up a lot of your time and energy and frustration."

The call center hung up on them too.

RELATED: Judge orders Bank of America to reopen thousands of claims denied using fraud filter

The numbers show it can be even harder to get through to the call center now than it was last year.

More than two million calls poured in to the EDD hotline during one week last August, when EDD started tracking the numbers. And agents picked up just 10 percent of the calls.

The numbers spiked to nine million calls a week in January. That's when EDD suddenly froze 1.4 million accounts and workers were clamoring for answers.

The EDD picked up three percent of the calls.

And the latest numbers show little improvement. About four million calls flooded the EDD the last week of May, and EDD answered about six percent of them.

RELATED: Risk analysts propose 'digital lock' solution to EDD's fraud woes

On top of the call center frustration, the EDD still can't keep up with the onslaught of claims.

Today, EDD still has a backlog of nearly 230,000 claims -- those waiting three weeks or more for benefits.

Another 230,000 cases are on hold to solve issues like ID verification. 900,000 more are awaiting certification.

State Senator Jim Patterson (R - Fresno) expressed his frustration. "None of that has gotten better, there's still a backlog, the call center is useless."

RELATED: San Jose man discovers $4,000 missing from his EDD account

EDD says it's working on automating more services, and training more staff.

Many lawmakers say the agency seems mired in old ways - especially after EDD quietly renewed its contract with Bank of America last week in spite of rampant fraud on EDD debit cards issued by the bank.

"We're supposed to accept that this is the new EDD. That's not the new EDD. That's the old EDD," said Sen. Patterson.

A quick check finds that, while the state is reopening, EDD buildings are generally closed to the public except by appointment, and only then to get jobs. You can't go to a building to solve unemployment issues... they'll just give you the 800 number.

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

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