The state Employment Development Department (EDD), which distributes benefits to the jobless, is doing a horrible job of helping them through the bureaucratic labyrinth.
A review of agency records by the Los Angeles Times found that on a good day, less than 20% of callers to EDD phones successfully make a human connection. On a bad day, that drops to 10%. Anecdotal research indicated that staying on hold for lengthy waits and repeated rapid-fire re-calls don’t work.
The Times described one couple, seeking to find out if they would receive benefits, who each dialed EDD four hours a day for two weeks and never heard a human voice—at least one that wasn’t pre-recorded. Callers seeking to sort out problems, ask questions or verify eligibility are routinely directed to unhelpful self-service extensions or the website.
But help may be on the way, although not for the desperate unemployed. Their numbers are increasing, thanks to Republicans who blocked attempts to extend claims beyond the initial benefit, which in California is 26 weeks. Around 222,000 in the state had their benefits end just before the New Year, out of 1.3 million nationally. Another 1.9 million will lose benefits nationally in the next year unless the GOP relents or the Democrats find some equally detestable entitlement “reform” to trade.
Although the initial shock of going from a bare subsistence existence to a dark void could trigger a rash of additional calls to EDD, a lot of people will probably give up hope and stop calling. That might ease the workload of an agency devastated by budget cuts. Last year, the department dramatically reduced its hours of phone customer service because of a $158 million cut in federal funding.
As of May 2013, a combination of sequester slashing and already existing administrative underfunding by the federal government cut contributions to California by 27%, compared to 22% nationwide. The funding shortfall had already cost 900 EDD workers their jobs, and another 1,600 were expected to join them in the unemployment line within 15 months.
Governor Jerry Brown’s 2014-15 budget (pdf) proposed increases for EDD that it proclaimed in the tiniest of footnotes would “restore 2014-15 service levels to 2012-13 levels, and allow the EDD to retain staff and continue overtime to process new and continued claims.”
It may need the overtime funds after a disastrous launch of a computer system upgrade crashed and burned last September. More than 150,000 people had their benefits delayed or disappear and eventually forced EDD to transfer phone handlers to help with hand processing of claims.