EDD computer woes stymie federal payments to jobless workers

A fresh debacle has engulfed unemployed California workers: A state Employment Development Department antiquated computer system could stymie payments to many people in the state who were waiting for an extra $300 in federal funds, the EDD told state lawmakers on Friday.

The additional $300 from the federal government was supposed to be added, starting Dec. 27. to the regular California unemployment benefits to help jobless workers make ends meet.

Now it appears that might not happen until sometime in March — creating a gap of more than two months for workers who were depending on receiving that additional $300 that was provided by the U.S. government.

“The EDD told us today that unemployed people who are waiting for benefits will have to wait to get their money until March 7,” state Assemblymember Jim Patterson said Friday during a news briefing regarding the latest blunder by the state EDD.

Assemblymember Patterson warned that it could take longer than that for the $300 in additional payments to arrive.

“We actually believe it is going to be weeks and weeks longer than that,” Patterson said. “The EDD is going to have to start processing. And we know how their processing goes.”

The delayed $300 payments are a disturbing new indicator that the EDD has botched its efforts to pay unemployed workers in a widening number of ways.

“We’re all so exhausted by the deluge of bad news from EDD, and this Friday night news adds insult to injury,” said state Assemblymember David Chiu (D-San Francisco).

This news organization obtained a copy of an email that the state EDD sent out to state legislative staff on Friday regarding the situation.

“EDD will be sending emails next week to impacted individuals notifying them that phase two of the extension of federal benefit programs is coming and to look for the chance to start certifying for benefits by March 7, 2021,” the letter to the state Legislature said.

The state agency told lawmakers it would be getting in touch with affected California workers who are waiting for the additional $300 federal payments.

“They (the affected jobless workers) will receive emails, texts, or mailed notices in a few weeks telling them when the new additional up to 11 weeks of benefits are available to them for certifying their eligibility,” the EDD email to the lawmakers stated.

The EDD said it has been working on getting the additional $300 payments to workers.

“This is just the next phase of rolling out the additional up to 11 weeks of benefits states have to add to PUA (pandemic unemployment assistance) and PEUC (Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation) claims,” EDD spokesperson Loree Levy said Friday night.

The workers who are affected are people whose unemployment claims ran out on Dec. 26.

“New funds were allocated by the federal government on Dec. 27,” Assemblymember Patterson’s office stated in an email to this news organization. “They have been without funds since then and will continue to wait until March 7 to get any funds.”

The state labor agency has been under fire since last spring on numerous fronts, primarily related to the EDD’s inability to pay benefits in a timely fashion to unemployed workers at the same time the EDD blunders opened the floodgates to a tsunami of payments of fraudulent unemployment claims.

“The EDD said this delay is due to ‘programming infrastructure’ that was not in place to make these payments,” Assemblymember Patterson’s office stated. “What that means is the outdated computer system is failing Californians once again.”

The federal funds were available on Dec. 27, the day after the U.S. money that was previously allocated had run out.

A new EDD director, Rita Saenz, took the helm at the disgraced state agency on Jan. 1. Saenz has vowed on multiple occasions that the wide-ranging woes at the EDD would be fixed.

The most recent public assurances issued by the EDD director and her top aides occurred on Wednesday during a testy joint legislative. The latest EDD revelations, circulated just before the start of the weekend, appeared to catch state lawmakers by surprise.

“I will certainly be following up with EDD leadership about this decision because it is absolutely unsatisfactory,” Assemblymember Chiu said.

State lawmakers grilled the EDD officials during the Wednesday hearing. The computer problems linked to the federal payments were not presented as a topic of discussion.

“The EDD has known about this since January,” Assemblymember Patterson said. “This new director and her staff came in front of the Legislature on Wednesday and they chose to tell us nothing about this.”

Ominously, it appears that an unknown — but potentially huge number — of California workers who have lost their jobs could wait a long time before the badly needed $300 payments materialize.

Coronavirus-linked business shutdowns orchestrated by state and local government agencies to combat the coronavirus have shoved huge numbers of California workers onto the unemployment rolls. The closures to battle the deadly bug began in March 2020.

“I’m not sure how EDD can imagine that people can just go without income for months at a time,” Chiu said. “They’ve already gone into extreme debt. Their finances are in ruins.”