LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — For months, CBS Los Angeles has heard from countless Californians still waiting to receive unemployment benefits from the state’s Employment Development Department.
“I have tried everything,” Kela Browning, an unemployed salon worker, said. “I am so broke.”
A report released Wednesday said that more than one million unemployment claims were still pending — even as a number of workers impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, like unemployed umpire William Swan, say they on the verge of losing everything.
“It’s really hard, because I haven’t been able to pay my rent since April,” he said.
In Sacramento, Sharon Hilliard, the head of EDD, was grilled by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers during an assembly budget subcommittee hearing Thursday.
“Many of the people in my district have had no income, no income, since March,” Assemblyman Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, said. “I’m very, very embarrassed and I hope that members of the EDD are also embarrassed and that will trigger action.”
Hilliard said that while there are more than 1 million pending claims, she believes that only about 250,000 of the people who filed are actually eligible for benefits — meaning there are about 800,000 people who will not be paid.
“We can’t gamble with people’s lives because we can’t get our act together,” Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove, said.
After several attempts, Hilliard was able to get on the phone at the hearing and told the committee that the department was laser focused on addressing the backlog — the size of which she was accused of misrepresenting.
“You said, and I quote, ‘100,000, no hundreds of thousands, no 100,000,’ end quote,'” Assemblyman David Chu, D-San Francisco said. “Director Hilliard, why did you lie to us?”
“I would never lie to the public or to the legislative body,” Hilliard said in response. “I can speak to the fact that it has been a struggle for us to pull data.”
Wednesday’s report found that in March, nearly 90% of all claims were processed in 14 days. That number dropped to 52% in June. Also on Wednesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced he was forming a strike team to look into the ongoing problems at the EDD.
“You just can’t get through, and you just never end up speaking to a person, so then you just get frustrated and give up,” Chelsea Soudipour, an unemployed hairstylist, said.
Newsom said he has directed EDD to actively process all pending claims, beginning with the oldest ones first.
“My car went first, my job went second and now I am on the verge of losing my place,” Shawnte McNair Durham, and unemployed rideshare driver, said.