California Unemployment: Residents struggle to get answers as to why they apply but don't get benefits

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- The percentage of Californians applying for unemployment continues to grow, but there is a gap between those that apply or and those who actually receive benefits and many people say they don't know why they are not getting help.

Since the outbreak of COVID-19, the percentage of Californians applying for unemployment benefits has more than quadrupled.

Over the last five weeks, between March 21 and April 18, approximately 3.4 million Californians applied for unemployment insurance.

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That's 17 percent of California's labor force.

In February, only 4 percent of California's labor force had applied for unemployment benefits.

Stephanie O'Brien found out by phone she was furloughed in late March.

"The moment I hung up I went and applied for unemployment," said O'Brien who lives in Fairfield.

Shortly thereafter, she says she got a message she was disqualified, but with no explanation why.

"I call again, I call again and it's frustrating because I can't get answers," said O'Brien.

RELATED: Coronavirus Impact: California unemployment benefits delayed for many amid surge in applications
O'Brien isn't alone.

According to the most recently available data, a little more than 8 percent of California's workforce was receiving unemployment benefits as of April 4, but on that date the unemployment rate was already up to 11 percent, meaning approximately 550,000 Californians asked for but had not yet received benefits.

While the percentage of California's workforce receiving benefits has been increasing since March, many Californians are still waiting and say they can't get through to the Employment Development Department to ask why.

"The days keep going by and I have responsibilities to take care of," said O'Brien.

According to a press release EDD sent out late Thursday afternoon, $3 billion in UI benefits have been paid to workers who lost their jobs as a result of COVID-19. The EDD says it has processed 3.2 million claims since the pandemic impacts began.

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