Californians Who Appeal Denial of Jobless Benefits Win More than Half the Time

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Governor Jerry Brown’s 2012-13 budget proposed eliminating the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board (CUIAB) and replacing it with a bureau under the jurisdiction of the state Employment Development Department (EDD).

That didn’t happen.

So we’ll never know if losing that level of independence would have changed the fact that more than half the people who challenged EDD’s denial of their unemployment benefits—over more than a year’s time—won on appeal before the board’s administrative law judges.

Documents obtained by the Los Angeles Times showed that 55% of the 296,030 appeals were approved by the judges between July 2012 and October 2013. EDD workers had denied benefits for a range of reasons, including alleged false statements on forms, quitting a job voluntarily, receiving benefits overpayments and not being available to work.

Around 70% of the cases in which EDD employees said claimants had broken department regulations were reversed. One unnamed judge told the Times EDD documents “are extraordinarily difficult to read.” Others blamed lack of EDD staff and cited what appeared to be poor training of employees. “They tend to be rather abrupt, rude even,” one judge said.

The board oversees a quasi-judicial system that hears challenges to decisions about unemployment and disability benefits, as well as tax-liability assessments made by the EDD. When employees or employers disagree with department decisions, they can appeal to an administrative law judge and, if still unhappy, the seven-member board itself.

The EDD is currently without a director. Pam Harris resigned last August and Chief Deputy Director Sharon Hilliard has been in charge since.

Being jobless is never easy, but problems at the state unemployment department have exacerbated the situation for the approximately 710,000 people with active claims and those submitting new ones. The EDD installed a new computer system last year that screwed up tens of thousands of benefits claims and delayed checks for months beginning on Labor Day. The department was still processing some claims by hand as of December.

Budget cuts forced cutbacks in customer service hours and phone service, which by some accounts resulted in the overwhelming majority of callers who sought benefits information failing to get help. Earlier in the month, Governor Brown, buoyed by a growing state budget surplus, ordered EDD to hire 435 new staffers and keep and rehire another 300 former workers and temps.

Claimants who manage to get benefits are receiving less money than a year ago. In California, weekly and maximum benefits were cut 17.9% last April because of the sequester dictated by the federal Budget Act of 2011. Sequestration used a meat cleaver to indiscriminately hack domestic and military spending with little regard for need. It was enacted by a Congress that felt it required the incentive of calamitous budget cuts to reach a more sensible accord on its own, which it didn’t. 

Checks stopped coming for 222,000 California recipients last December when Republicans in Congress blocked legislation to extend benefits for the long-term unemployed.

Official California unemployment continues to hover over 8%, but that number underestimates the real misery as frustrated, long-term jobless workers give up looking and are no longer counted.

There is no appeal for them.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Jobless Benefits Wrongly Denied (by Marc Lifsher, Los Angeles Times)

Brown Shrinks Board Known as Safe Haven for Ex-Lawmakers between Jobs (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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