SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP/CBS13) — California will not accept new unemployment claims for the next two weeks as the state works to prevent fraud and reduce a backlog as more than 2 million people are out of work statewide during the coronavirus pandemic, officials said late Saturday.
“Though it will not happen overnight, we will operationalize these recommendations to the best of our abilities and regularly update our customers, the Governor, and the legislature. We welcome the opportunity to enhance our ability to serve fellow Californians,” Director Sharon Hilliard, of California’s Employment Development Department, said in a press release issued by the agency.
Nearly 600,000 Californians are part of a backlog where their unemployment claims have not been processed by the state’s Employment Development Department for more than 21 days, the state said in a news release. There are also 1 million cases where residents received payments but are awaiting a resolution to their modified claims.
The Employment Development Department has been hampered throughout the pandemic by outdated technology at a time when California is seeing an unprecedented wave of unemployment claims. While the department estimates that about 2.1 million residents were out of work statewide last month, California’s unemployment rate fell to 11.4% in August, down from 13.5% in July.
Until Oct. 5, anyone who files new claims will be asked to provide contact information so the Employment Development Department can reach out after the two weeks are over. Californians who are already in the unemployment system are not expected to see an interruption in their payments during the two-week period.
The state plans to implement a new online identity verification tool during the two-week period that would reduce the number of claims needed to be processed by hand and potentially reduce suspected fraud.
“New claimants should not see a delay in benefit payments, and in fact many of them will actually get their payments faster as they avoid the older time-intensive ID Verification process,” Hilliard wrote in a letter dated Friday to California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
Hilliard’s actions, including the two-week pause on new claims, stem from recommendations made by an unemployment “strike team” that was appointed by Newsom in July. The governor wanted the team to address the current unemployment issues from the pandemic, as well as consider long-term solutions to get the department better suited for future economic downturns.
“We are in this for the long haul. The strike teams’ recommendations provide an opportunity to pivot and improve our systems with a priority of delivering on the Governor’s vision of innovative government systems that prioritize the customer experience, informed by data and great expertise,” Hilliard said in the press release.
Some are skeptical but hopeful of how much change these adjustments will make.
Michael Nelson told CBS13 in January he filed for unemployment and did receive payments from the EDD. After he gained employment and sent paperwork to the EDD stating he was working again, they sent him money again months afterward. He’s been trying to contact the agency about this and return the money but hasn’t had much luck doing so.
“I hope they do. You know I’d just like to, you know, get a phone call and square all of this away. And I’m sure people would like to get their money out of it,” Nelson said.
There are also elected officials who have their own reservations about the new recommendations.
“Many of us are concerned about what that something looks like,” Assemblymen Jim Patterson (R-Fresno), said. “There’s got to be whole lot more explanation about what the endgame really is number one. Number two, I don’t think you draw the curtain down and say we’re not going to process for two-weeks while we fix something.”