800,000 California workers face payment delays

Hundreds of thousands of California workers face a fresh round of delays of more than a month for their unemployment payments while a state labor agency attempts to launch a new federal program, officials said Wednesday.

The delays jolted a California workforce that has been battered for more than a year by government-ordered business shutdowns of varying degrees.

Potentially 800,000 California workers face delays through the end of April in receiving payments of unemployment benefits issued by the embattled state Employment Development Department. Since March 2020, the EDD has been buried in an avalanche of unemployment claims that it has struggled to pay on a timely basis. The results have been uneven at best.

Now a newly approved federal program that is issuing extra payments of $300 a week on top of a worker’s regular state unemployment benefits is contributing to the delay.

The looming delays — which could last until April 30 for many workers — affect people with two categories of unemployment claims that they have filed with the EDD.

Slightly more than half of the 1.4 million people who have Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) claims will see their payments start to be phased in between April 10 and April 30, according to a release Wednesday from the EDD. An estimated 47% of the claimants will continue to collect benefits without interruption, “if eligible,” the EDD said.

The EDD estimate means 742,000 workers face the grim prospect of interruptions in their benefit payments.

An estimated 5% of another 1.2 million people who are collecting Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) benefits also face delays.  That would suggest that 60,000 workers receiving those benefits might have to endure unwelcome interruptions.

“The remaining 5% that exhausted all PUA benefits will be getting texts, UI Online notifications, or mailed notices by April 10, 2021, if not sooner, about when to certify for benefits,” the EDD said Wednesday.

Since the spike in unemployment in March 2020, the EDD has struggled to swiftly reprogram its outmoded and creaky computer systems to accommodate federally approved payment enhancements to regular state jobless benefits.

Unemployment claims skyrocketed after California workers lost their jobs in record numbers because of business shutdowns ordered by state and local government agencies to curb the coronavirus’ spread.

State lawmakers have lambasted the EDD for the agency’s perceived blunders and on Wednesday the criticism of the EDD reemerged.

“They can pat themselves on the back all they want for their mediocrity,” state Assemblymember Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) said of the EDD. “It doesn’t change the fact that their technology has failed Californians at every level because of decades of inept leadership.”

California workers seeking government assistance have encountered a bureaucratic maze of obstacles that include a broken phone center, a glitch-hobbled computer system, suspended benefit payments, and fraud.

“Unemployed Californians and the public need to get the full story from EDD,” state Sen. Josh Becker (D-Menlo Park) said. “It seems this must be said again, and again, and again. EDD must be transparent and fully honest about its deliverables and its performance as a whole.”

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