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Coronavirus unemployment: State pays one of every eight claims

California’s embattled labor agency made first-time payments during March to only one out of every eight workers who filed initial unemployment claims, fresh evidence of the state’s flagging quest to pay people who lost jobs amid coronavirus-linked business lockdowns.

The state’s Employment Development Department was noticeably below the nationwide average in the rate that the agency’s unemployment insurance unit was able to make its first payments to workers who had recently lost their jobs and filed initial claims, according to results posted by the U.S. Department of Labor.

EDD staffers during March received 1.65 million initial claims for unemployment and made first-time payments for 215,000 of those — 13 percent of the total, the Labor Department report determined. Or put another way, only about one of every eight workers who filed initial claims for unemployment insurance received their first payments during March.

In contrast, the combined 50 states and Washington, D.C. received 11.75 million claims and made 1.67 million first payments during March — or 14 percent of the total.

“Anyone who has spent time talking with displaced workers knows that it has been an exasperating and confusing process between filing for unemployment and getting paid,” said Andrew Stettner, a Century Foundation senior fellow who tracks unemployment insurance trends and issues.

California also was a distant laggard compared with the individual states that performed the best when it came to processing unemployment claims.

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Rhode Island paid first payments on 51 percent of the initial jobless claims it received during March. Virginia paid 47 percent of the claims it received, the Labor Department reported.

California’s 13 percent payment pace was far behind even states with a tarnished reputation for efficiency such as New York. New York State during March made first-time payments to 34 percent of the applicants filing initial jobless claims.

To worsen matters, numerous workers who have been waiting anxiously for those first EDD payments — or any sort of communication from the overwhelmed state agency — have begun receiving notices that their payments for the first two weeks totaled $0 a week.

“I was incredulous when I got that letter from the EDD,” said Monica Monica Morris-Aranda, a San Jose resident who lost her job at a high-end steakhouse in Palo Alto. “It is ludicrous that they would send me something at all if it’s just to say my payment was nothing.”

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