California lawmakers voice frustrations as their unemployed constituents continue to wait for benefits

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SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KTXL) — California lawmakers and those without work had a chance to question the state’s unemployment agency after a backlog of nearly 1 million unemployment benefit claims piled up.

During a hearing at the State Capitol Thursday, the Assembly Budget Subcommittee, as well as workers left unemployed by the COVID-19 pandemic, lashed out at the head of the California Employment Development Department.

“From this hearing, we want more than bland excuses and vague promises,” said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Huntington Beach.

Speaking to EDD Director Sharon Hilliard over the phone, dozens of lawmakers voiced their frustrations over the state taking so long to process unemployment claims.

“This is heart wrenching, it is maddening and it is totally unacceptable,” Petrie-Norris said.

“We’ve got to fix this because there’s a problem with that,” said Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove. “We’re talking about calls dropped, people waiting for hours upon hours just to get through.”

So, the system is not working. We’ve got to fix it.

Assemblyman Jim Cooper, D-Elk Grove

Cooper is the chairman of the Assembly Budget Subcommittee on State Administration. He said he’s getting multiple phone calls from his constituents on this issue every day and so are his colleagues.

“There’s still a lot of folks who haven’t received their checks yet and some applied back in March. We’re talking five months into COVID,” he said. “So, a lot of these folks are having a hard time paying their mortgage, their rent, paying bills. It’s just heartbreaking to hear these stories.”

He said he called the oversight hearing Thursday to demand improvements.

“A lot of these things should be done electronically. A lot of verification should be done electronically,” Cooper said. “The system they use is over 30 years old.”

During the meeting, many people who were unemployed also called in to lash out at the long phone wait times.

“So, the system is not working,” Cooper said. “We’ve got to fix it. The governor is forming a strike team but that’s going to take 35 days to report back.”

The assemblyman said there will be a follow up oversight hearing in the fall to ensure upgrades are happening.

“At the end of the day, I just want it fixed and they want it fixed too,” Cooper said.

The EDD said it is merging its call centers to better serve customers and plans to adopt a new routing system to send calls to specialized agents by mid-October.

Assem. David Chiu, D-San Francisco, joined FOX40 News at 11 to discuss lawmakers’ frustrations with the EDD.

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