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Dan Walters

Opinion: Newsom Owes Apology for Unemployment Office Failings



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Were Gov. Gavin Newsom as humble as he often proclaims to be, he would interrupt his “California Comeback” campaign long enough to issue a personal apology to hundreds of thousands of Californians who remain mired in the managerial meltdown at the Employment Development Department.

Yes, as Newsom constantly reminds us, the threat from COVID-19 has diminished and the state’s battered economy is slowly recovering. Nevertheless, California has the nation’s second highest unemployment rate and well over a million California workers are still jobless, many of whom qualify for unemployment insurance benefits — if they can ever get their applications resolved.

Dan Walters


Frustrated Claimants Voice Their Struggles

Journalists who write about economic issues, including yours truly, receive steady streams of emails from frustrated claimants who can’t get their calls answered and/or have their benefits frozen for reasons that are never explained.

A lengthy message from “Lindsay” typifies the sad syndrome. She worked for a travel agency before being laid off last year and has been dealing with the EDD bureaucracy, or trying to deal, ever since, even after returning to parttime work. One passage:

“It wasn’t until April 22nd that I got my back pay for the previous 6 1/2 weeks I went without a dime. Mind you during this time I had lost my car insurance 2x, missed being able to celebrate Christmas or buy gifts, couldn’t pay rent or really eat. I barely take home $600 twice a month from work too.

“After the last back pay I received it wasn’t even a full week before realizing I had not received any money from EDD. I guess because I had this $1,500 in back pay that was deposited. I hadn’t really calculated the fact that I was missing 2 of my weeks that I just certified for and logged in to my (unemployment insurance) account to see that EDD had randomly disqualified me for 2 weeks of pay without any reasoning, no information sent to me or emailed, and this occurred without notifying my employer.

The problems with EDD first surfaced 14 months ago, when the economy was shutting down due to Newsom’s emergency orders, and Newsom promised to fix them. “We have to meet the moment,” he told reporters then. “We have to provide more support.”

Newsom Finally Addresses EDD’s ‘Outdated Infrastructure’

In fact, however, the glitches continued and became steadily worse. The most recent EDD bulletin says it has a backlog of nearly 230,000 unresolved claims, a number that has been growing lately, not shrinking.

When Newsom launched his California Comeback campaign with a lavishly choreographed State of the State speech in March, he obviously meant it to blunt a recall campaign aimed at short-circuiting his political career.

He touted progress on dampening the pandemic and rebuilding the economy and closed with “Our hopeful vision of our brighter future is the basis for the decisions we make today. We place faith over fear — optimism over pessimism. The power is in our hands.”

Newsom did not, however, even mention the never-resolved crisis at EDD that he had promised to repair nearly a year earlier. The revised state budget he unveiled in May does mention it, saying blandly, “The pandemic has exposed many of EDD’s antiquated processes and outdated infrastructure, resulting in a delay or inability for many Californians to access (unemployment) benefits.”

Duh. Everybody, including Newsom, knew that more than a year ago. Subsequently, EDD managed to hand out billions of dollars to fraudsters while jobless workers like Lindsay have suffered economic stress because he didn’t make good on his promise, which is why he owes them a humble apology.

CalMatters is a public interest journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. For more stories by Dan Walters, go to calmatters.org/commentary.

Dan Walters has been a journalist for nearly 60 years, spending all but a few of those years working for California newspapers. He has written more than 9,000 columns about the state and its politics and is the founding editor of the “California Political Almanac.” Dan has also been a frequent guest on national television news shows, commenting on California issues and policies.