Confusion over California's unemployment debit cards causes frustration, stress for jobless amid pandemic

MONTEREY, Calif. (KGO) -- It didn't take long for the California Employment Development Department to send benefits to a jobless art teacher. The only problem was she couldn't access those benefits.

It's a problem many have Californians have told us you're also facing.

Here's what you need to know if this happens to you.

Sue Ann Hillyer shows off some of her artwork. She teaches art in schools, youth and therapy programs.

"All those venues have been shut down," said Hillyer. "Schools are closed. All the private venues are closed."

She applied for unemployment and won approval without a hitch.

The next step would be to receive her EDD debit card where her benefits would be loaded.

"So I waited and I waited and I kept waiting," she said.

She had been informed the card would arrive in less than 10 days.

More than a month passed.

"Meanwhile they're putting money into some account that I don't have access to because I don't have a debit card," said Hillyer.

The EDD acknowledges there have been a wide variety of issues.

Loree Levy of the EDD says some don't realize they can reuse cards from past claims.

"Those cards are good for three years and you can use them," said Levy.

But some have lost their cards or their passwords.

Bank of America administers the debit card program for the state.

It worked with EDD to send out a message on Twitter, advising claimants how to apply for a replacement card.

If you've lost your sign in password or your PIN, you can go online to reset them.

Hillyer says none of that applied to her situation. Her card had expired because she last received unemployment benefits six years ago.

Bank of America says it just added a new feature allowing claimants to check the status of a new card.

That wasn't yet available for Hillyer, so she called the bank, but the automated prompts kept asking her for an account number she didn't have.

"So the account number is on that debit card. So until you get an account number, you're dead in the water," Hillyer said.

All the confusion left her without the money to pay rent in April.

"The first thing you think about is oh, my God. I'm going to be homeless," she said.

Bank of America tells ABC7 you can get to a human by following the prompts for lost cards on their phone line.

Instead, Hillyer called 7 On Your Side. We contacted Bank of America.

The bank fixed everything in 24 hours, telling us it's "pleased to have resolved Ms Hillyer's issue."

"Thank you all so very much," said Hillyer. "I love you all very very much."

Activate your EDD debit card, report a lost or stolen card, or reset your PIN here.

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

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