OAKLAND, Calif. - More than a year and a half after the coronavirus pandemic swept through the globe leaving many without work, complaints from Californians about getting unemployment claims paid – or more accurately, not paid – are still flowing in.
The Employment Development Department has paid out $171 billion since March 2020, 85% of which were paid within one week the certification was received, the agency said.
However, as of Friday, the EDD notes more than 185,000 cases that have been backlogged for at least three weeks. And that's the cases the agency is working on.
During the last reporting period, more than 2.2 million calls came into the EDD for the last week of August; but nearly 200,000, or about 11%, of those calls were actually answered by staff.
That means thousands of people are still not getting their issues resolved.
And without steady unemployment checks, many people say they are now homeless, despite eviction moratoriums preventing landlords from kicking tenants out if they lost their jobs because of COVID.
Here are the stories of just a small sampling of Californians who are living on the streets and who say they can't get through to EDD to remedy problems and collect the money they say is owed to them.
Jon Staples, technician
Jon Staples sleeps on a road in Novato where there are a lot of RVs parked.
Jon Staples, 45, is a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers as a telecommunications technician. He explained it's pretty common for there to be a bit of lag between jobs, and in pre-pandemic times, he and others have typically relied on unemployment checks to survive until the gig.
But in February, when he was laid off for about two months, he filled out a claim, like always.
The next day he got an email from EDD telling him he didn't qualify, saying he had already maxed out his COVID extensions.
Since then, he said he has been locked out of the claim section of the website, unable to submit any new claims, despite not being able to find work with the business he's employed with.
So, he has been trying to remedy the situation with a human agent, with no luck.
Every day he said he calls the EDD at 7:59 a.m. But the EDD's phone system is too overwhelmed and states that he needs to call back later before the automated robot hangs up on him.
Staples has actually been homeless for a while.
In fact, he said he has been living out of his van since 2017 because of the firestorms in Santa Rosa. That's despite his work as a technician. He still gets regular, but not full-time, work throughout the Bay Area.
He often sleeps in Novato where there are a lot of RVs parked. Sometimes he sleeps in the parking lot of a skydiving company in Davis where he packs parachutes and fuels the plane for extra money.
"Every year there is another catastrophe that keeps me from getting to a state of normal," he said. "l'm not sure what else to do, because my bills keep piling up."
Michael Tanner, irrigation self contractor
Michael Tanner says he's become homeless in Modesto.
He said that he has been homeless on the streets of Modesto since December 2020 because the EDD stopped his benefits, of which he says totals $22,000.
"I have lost everything I own," he said. "My vehicle, my dignity, my love for California."
Two months prior, the EDD shut down 350,000 accounts for suspected fraud, but a lot of legitimate claims were blocked, too, during the investigation.
Tanner said that he was one of the legitimate claims. And he's been appealing this denial ever since.
He said he's called and emailed EDD himself to no avail and also unsuccessfully tried to get the attention of his local senator and Congressman to help.
"I called EDD hundreds of times and spent at least a hundred hours on the phone with them to be lied to, hung up on, transferred to another office and put on hold for more than eight hours just to learn that department they transferred me to closed five hours before," he said.
He now enrolled at community college at the age of 59 to study business administration, even though he is sleeping in a tent.
"I might as well learn while I'm on the streets," he said.
Brian Elder said he felt actually lucky for a while. He paid a law firm $1,500 to help him file a claim and he received payments for a while until it ran out.
However, the EDD website said "not to worry about it, things would automatically be re-filed."
Or so he thought.
When he tried to to reapply for a second time, he had an 18-month window to qualify.
But he said that he was unable to speak to anyone despite calling between 30 and 45 times a day, and so he missed the deadline.
"This has led to me being homeless and left to fend on the streets while residing in my car," he said. "I am desperate and have run out of conventional options."
FOR MORE INFORMATION: The EDD said that visiting UI Online is the fastest way to ask a question about a claim. Customers can log in, then select Contact Us to get started. Customers who don’t have a UI Online account can quickly register for one.
For those who want to speak by phone, the call center can be reached from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at 1-800-300-5616. EDD offers a self-help information including a 24 hour self-help line 1-866-333-4606, AskEDD and an online chatbot answering frequent questions, a YouTube channel with helpful videos, and many articles at [edd.ca.gov]EDD.ca.gov.