U.S. labor secretary visits Bay Area to tout infrastructure bill, questioned on unemployment benefits

Labor Secretary Marty Walsh, former mayor of Boston, was in the Bay Area Wednesday to push the benefits of the bipartisan infrastructure bill. 

He gave KTVU a few minutes to talk about California’s labor situation. 

"We’re dealing with a pandemic, something that we never, ever dealt with before, at least in our lifetime, and it’s a very complicated, difficult and challenging time to govern," said Walsh.

Last week, though the Golden State with, less than 12% of the nation’s workforce, Californian’s filed 20% of the nation’s regular unemployment claims and, get this, 50% of the nation’s federal pandemic claims. 

The latest numbers show, Employment Development Department staff actually answers a paltry 8% of the calls it received and still has a long term backlog of almost a quarter million claims. 

"We’re going to be making investments and reforming, looking at reforming, some of the way we do business here and moving forward, I think the federal government does have a role to play and needs to step into this role," said Walsh.

But, says the labor secretary, a lot of the problems handed to Governor Gavin Newsom came from the previous administration’s poor handling of relief funds. 

"I think, you know, the last four years showed us a lot of inefficiencies in the federal government where we should have been more supportive of states we weren’t," said Walsh. 

Nonetheless, East Bay Congressman Mark DeSaulnier, a member of the House Labor Committee said, "It’s unacceptable and the federal government has a role to play as much as the funding. 

DeSaulnier says he’s working on funding for the EDD to fix it permanently. "Assign one person and give them a reasonable amount of cases is that they can deal with the client; the client can reach them 24/7 hours a day. 

We did this on foreclosure with the banking industry; changed everything," said DeSaulnier. "That’s gonna change the trajectory of working and allow people opportunities for pathways into the middle class and better paying jobs," said Walsh.

With more people working, the EDD may cease being a four letter word.