EDD told to reduce response time, reform online operations in scathing news conference

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- State legislators held a scathing news conference Thursday morning calling on California's Employment Development Department to reform its ways immediately as countless constituents deplete their savings waiting for unemployment benefits.

California's Employment Development Department says it is working around the clock, seven days a week processing unemployment benefits during the pandemic.

But despite paying more than $37.5 billion in benefits over the last few months and processing more than seven million claims, there are hundreds of Californians who have told 7 On Your Side and state lawmakers that they've received only one payment or no payments at all.

"I've just been using credit cards and savings and my business still isn't able to open so yeah, I really don't know what to do next," said Kathleen Maley, who applied for unemployment.

Taylor Whitehouse also applied for benefits.

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"You know I've been paying taxes for my entire life. Good upstanding citizen and I just don't understand why I can't access these benefits," said Whitehouse.

Whitehouse isn't alone in struggling to access benefits.

"I've only received one payment in the last 15 weeks that I've been unemployed," said Jenni Rowe, who also applied for unemployment.

Assemblymember David Chiu is calling on EDD to reduce its response time, better manage its call centers and reform its online operations.

"EDD is truly failing our state people are suffering tremendously," said Chiu.

In an email to ABC7 News, an EDD spokesperson said, "We are enhancing our technology systems to increase efficiencies, and have already hired or have offers extended to more than 4,000 new staff needed."

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EDD also says it put in place a chatbot and text message service to help provide Californians answers to their most common questions and help reduce the high demand for the call center.

Anna Liu has been trying to help her parents whose names were incorrect on their claims.

"She's been trying to call EDD to fix it and has not been able to reach anybody," said a translator for Liu.

"People are not asking for any kind of special treatment, people simply want to be able to access the unemployment benefits to which they are legally entitled," said State Senator Scott Weiner.

Chiu says contractor Deloitte is part of the problem.

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"The fact that EDD has been relying on a contractor that has had a history of bumbling projects is just mystifying," said Chiu.

In an emailed statement, a Deloitte spokesperson told ABC7 News, "We appreciate Assembly Member Chiu's frustration and efforts on behalf of his constituents, but there seems to be some confusion with regard to the facts surrounding our work for the state. We are deeply committed to our work with the Employment Development Department and the delivery of benefits to unemployed Californians, especially during this economic crisis, which has strained virtually every unemployment program across the nation. EDD recently leveraged a competitively-bid State of California contract to secure our services in this emergency to rapidly modify the existing UI system to deliver critical federal pandemic benefits to millions of families. We continue to deliver this work within the project's aggressive schedule and budget. The system we developed in 2013, and continue to help maintain, has paid out more than $30 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits and processed more than 6.3 million claims from Californians since mid-March, when demand surged as a result of the pandemic."

Chiu started the social media hashtag #EDDFailOfTheDay but says it's more like an EDD fail of the hour.

"We can't imagine the hell that our constituents are going through," said Chiu.

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