FAIRFIELD, Calif. (KGO) -- The Employment Development Department's notorious backlog of unemployment claims has dropped to about 77,000 which is far less than the one million plus from last year.
But now, more delays. Thousands have to wait up to six months just for an EDD interview -- and can't get benefits until then.
The EDD director herself is calling the delay "completely unacceptable."
It's posed a hardship for many -- including a North Bay mom and her little girl. They were on the verge of homelessness when they came to 7 On Your Side's Michael Finney for help.
It's the latest frustration with the EDD: when it was flooded with claims last year, the EDD stopped requiring interviews, so it could get money out faster. But that contributed to rampant fraud. Now, interviews are back -- but folks have to wait as long as half-a-year just to get one. It caused frantic moments for a single mom and her six-year-old daughter.
Deanna Varner of Fairfield and her little girl, Lily, were doing fine during the pandemic. While millions were thrown out of work, Varner had a job in medical billing - until this past April.
She got laid off.
"I was kind of taken aback; I didn't expect it because like I said I'd worked all through COVID," she said.
Right away, Varner applied for unemployment, thinking benefits would arrive in a couple weeks.
"Then you know that a couple weeks turned into months and then my savings ran out. Thank God PG&E didn't turn off anything," she said.
EDD told Varner she'd have to wait for a phone interview to see if she's eligible.
"She said, they were running four to six weeks behind. This was in June," Varner said she was told by the EDD.
She waited all summer. Still no interview.
EDD director Rita Saenz admitted to state lawmakers that the wait time for interviews is now six months. "These interviews are now scheduled 26 weeks out, which is completely unacceptable," she said.
She said only 15% of claims raise questions that require interviews. She says the rest are paid right away.
"That is no comfort to the people who are waiting," said Saenz, including people like Varner.
"So I was thinking, 'Gosh, how am I going to pay the rent?' Like, I was gonna lose my home," she said.
Varner applied for jobs, but nothing came through.
She kept calling the EDD.
"We're getting more calls than we can answer..." the EDD's recording intoned. "Please try again later."
"I was kind of at my wits' end. I was pretty hopeless at this point... Yeah, it was pretty scary," she said.
Then Varner saw our stories of 7 On Your Side helping folks get their benefits.
"It just gave me just a glimmer of hope like, okay, there, there's a possibility that I'm not going to be homeless at the end of the month," Varner said.
We got help from her state representative, Assemblymember Jim Frazier (D - Fairfield). And Varner got an interview... then a breakthrough.
"I got a notification there was a payment. I was like, wait, what?" she said.
All of her payments came in.
"I couldn't believe it. I cried, I cried, like, I'm not gonna be homeless. There's no way I could thank you guys enough," Varner said.
It took six months for Varner to get paid -- and even the EDD director isn't happy with what's going on. But wait times should ease up.
The number of new claims is half of what it was in April, and the EDD hired hundreds of workers to conduct interviews to clear up this backlog.
Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
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