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OP-ED: Unemployed still struggling
January 28, 2014, 05:00 AM Contra Costa Times

With tens of thousands of jobless Californians still struggling to get information about why they’re being denied unemployment benefits, it’s time for Gov. Jerry Brown to step in.

The state Employment Development Department has gone without a director for more than half of the past four years. Since last summer, the rudderless agency has drifted from one debacle to the next.

It’s long past time for the governor to put someone in charge and then hold that person accountable. Quick, smart and radical change is needed to ensure the jobless receive payments to which they’re entitled so they can pay rents or mortgages and put food on their tables.

We understand that the department faces significant federal funding cuts. But there’s little hope that will change. It’s time to find other solutions, other efficiencies. Punishing the innocent unemployed is not the answer.

In September, the agency deployed a new computer system that led to massive delays in the processing and payment of claims. The agency and the project contractor misjudged the number of claims that would be flagged by the new system and how long it would take to resolve their issues.

The fallout continues. The Los Angeles Times reported this week that the agency answers only 10 percent to 17 percent of its calls. It seems that EDD is caught in a downward spiral, trying to save money by flagging more benefit requests for further information before payment but unable to handle the flood of telephone inquiries from those people seeking answers.

Yes, there are rules and, yes, they must be followed. But it’s cruel to automatically cut off benefits or deny them from the start, often without justification, and then leave people helplessly dialing for days in a futile attempt to reach someone for an explanation.

It not only affects the estimated 20 percent of claimants who are flagged for more information, it also hurts others who can’t get through.

Chief Deputy Director Sharon Hilliard says the agency is looking at how other states handle calls and promises an improvement plan by the end of March. That’s two more months just to come up with a plan. Then they will have to implement it.

That’s not only unacceptable, it dismisses the urgency of the situation. Unemployed workers are entitled to up to $450 a week when they lose their jobs. It’s not much, but it’s critical money to help keep households afloat.

It’s time for leadership. That won’t happen until the governor steps up. This mess is on his watch.



Tags: agency, percent, other, their, information,

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