After two week pause, EDD accepts new unemployment claims, but phone delays persist

California’s Employment Development Department officially began accepting new unemployment claims on Monday after a two week shutdown.

EDD launched a new verification system at the beginning of the application process for unemployment benefits. EDD told KTVU the technology ensures a person isn’t lying about their identity by asking the claimant to upload images of the ID card, driver’s license, or passport and a photo of themselves. The technology is expected to help the agency process claims fast and root out fraud.

Former EDD Director and attorney, Michael Bernick, said other states have successfully used this technology before.

“I think it's clear something dramatic needed to be done and I think this new verification system may do it,” he said. “The hope is we'll start to see impacts in the next couple of weeks or in a month’s time or so.”

Part of a statement from EDD reads:

“This new enhanced process for verifying a claimant’s identity will help EDD better serve their customers by providing greater convenience in a secure way and avoiding lengthy manual review that can delay benefit payments. The end result of this program enhancement will be faster processing of unemployment claims for customers, preventing the occurrence of fraud in the valuable unemployment program, and reducing workload for staff who can then be more available for claimants in need of assistance.”

The latest data from EDD’s website shows that at the end of September, the agency was able to reduce the number of backlogged initial claims from approximately 622,000 to approximately 542,000. The agency has also suspended suspicious high volume, multiple claims filed at the same address.

Ways to reach California's EDD: Resources to Help You

Governor Gavin Newsom announced last month that the beleagured department would stop accepting new claims for two week so the agency could improve claim processing, address backlogs and fraud, and upgrade its antiquated technology.

But even once the shutdown was lifted, the EDD phone lines were still inundated. KTVU attempted to access the phone system multiple times on Monday morning, only to be booted off the call altogether and unable to even wait on hold.

And millions of Californians are facing the same frustrations.

For months, people have inundated KTVU with stories about the near impossibility of getting timely help with unemployment claims. 

Michelle Singleton of Oakhurst said that she called the help line over 100 times with an account issue, only to be told, after hours of waiting, that she couldn’t be helped.

“I called literally over 126 times to get through to one person,” she said. “And he told me that all the information I had been given prior to was not accurate. It takes up to three to five months for the ID verification, he does not know why we were told 10 days, and that he can't help us with it.”

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Bernadette Roberts, a laid off San Jose teacher who moved to Texas during the pandemic, said that she can’t afford to wait for help with her unemployment insurance. She has $0 in her bank account. 

“I tried calling them multiple times today,” she said. “...they don't even let you hold. They just cancel your call after a certain point. They say, ‘We are busy, we are not able to take care of your call right now. Please call back.’”

As record levels of people become unemployed during the pandemic, the agency has distributed nearly $100 billion in benefits to constituents. 

Nathan Hoover of San Diego said that the new identity verification measures caused an issue with his account, and now he can’t speak to anyone at the Department to get the problem sorted.

“I called immediately at 8 am, when they opened, and already, you get the reject— that there's too many people calling in, to call back later,” he said. “So you try again, 10 or 15 minutes, still, there’s nothing you can do. You can try calling 10 times in a row and you're not going to get through.”