Gov. Gavin Newsom, alarmed by the state government’s ineptitude in promptly paying unemployment claims to jobless workers, announced a “strike team” Wednesday to address the problems — but also indicated that it could take months to catch up to a backlog of unpaid benefits amid the coronavirus.
The “strike team” of state officials is being set up to address a debacle at the EDD that has persisted — without solution — for more than four months since mid-March. That’s when unemployment claims spiked after state and local government agencies ushered in wide-ranging business shutdowns to combat the deadly bug.
“There should be no barriers between Californians and the benefits they have earned,” Gov. Newsom said Wednesday. “Unprecedented demand due to job loss during this pandemic paired with an antiquated system have created an unacceptable backlog of claims.”
But tucked away in the governor’s announcement was an official acknowledgment at the top levels of state government that the EDD’s inability to pay unemployment claims has resulted in a massive backlog of unemployed workers in California who haven’t in some cases received any payments.
Besides conceding that an “unacceptable backlog” of claims exists at the EDD, the governor also suggested that the logjam of non-payments might not be unlocked for months.
“Prioritizing the oldest claims first, EDD is actively processing all claims in the ‘Pending Resolution’ category and anticipates eliminating the backlog of actionable claims by the end of September,” the governor’s office said in a prepared release on Wednesday.
The governor’s announcement of the “strike team” arrived just hours before federal officials are scheduled to reveal the latest snapshots of the job markets in the United States and each of the 50 states with a new report on weekly unemployment claims.
Over a roughly four-month period from the week that ended on March 14 through the week that ended on July 18, about 6.84 million California workers have filed initial claims for unemployment. In recent weeks, the number of unemployment claims in California has been rising.
This news organization has previously analyzed federal statistics that point to a huge backlog of unpaid claims.
Over the three months of March, April, and May, 5.01 million California workers filed initial claims for unemployment benefits and the EDD completed first-time payments to just 3.13 million workers, statistics compiled by the U.S. Labor Department show.
The Labor Department figures point to a grim gap between the initial claims and the first-time payments, leaving 1.88 million claims unfilled and suggests a mammoth backlog of workers who have yet to receive any benefits despite being out of work for weeks or months.
“Californians deserve better,” Newsom said. “These reform efforts aim to move the EDD in that direction.”