On Wednesday, Governor Gavin Newsom announced the formation of a “strike team” to solve numerous issues plaguing the Employment Development Department (EDD).
Governor Newsom’s EDD “strike team”
Fronted by Government Operations Agency Secretary Yolanda Richardson and open government group Code for America founder Jennifer Pahlka, the Governor’s strike team will look into long wait times within the EDD for unemployment claims, delayed payments, phone delays, and the EDD’s struggles in dealing with a record number of unemployment insurance (UI) claimants.
The strike team will have a plan in place within 45 days to quicken the UI process, improve the EDD, as well as update current procedures. The oldest active claims will be targeted first, with all those currently “Pending Resolution” expected to be acted on by September 1st, potentially eliminating all remaining backlogged unemployment claims.
As of Thursday, there are currently about 1 million of these types of claims potentially eligible for benefit payments, despite 8.7 million claims being filed since March. The EDD also has noted that, in recent months, the number of initial claims receiving first payments within two weeks has fallen from 87.8% in March to 51.9% in June, despite a largely declining number of total incoming UI cases, exacerbating the backlog problem.
Long phone wait times are also expected to be brought down to more reasonable lengths, with the strike team planning on streamlining the EDD call centers to route representatives with extensive knowledge of certain problems with callers who specifically have them.
“There should be no barriers between Californians and the benefits they have earned,” said Governor Newsom in a statement. “Unprecedented demand due to job loss during this pandemic paired with an antiquated system have created an unacceptable backlog of claims. Californians deserve better, and these reform efforts aim to move the EDD in that direction.”
A replacement for the cancelled EDD audit hearing
Newsom’s Wednesday announcement also came less than 48 hours after the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) said that they would no longer be holding a hearing over an internal audit of the EDD. The audit, which would have dealt with and solved the same exact issues that the task force would go over, had been largely backed by Legislative Republicans and would have held the EDD directly accountable for their internal problems.
“Mary,” an EDD employee, explained to the Globe that the audit being turned down in favor of a task force was partially political, but also focused on fixing the problems quickly in case of a future wave of claims.
“The audit would have taken too long, and there are problems that need to be addressed and fixed now,” noted Mary. “We can’t wait several months for promised change that never really comes after an audit, like what happened after the 2011 audit of the EDD.
“That being said, the state audit being canned for a group chosen by the Governor was political. Look at the timing. They knew this was coming and they stopped the audit hearing for it. You can try and spin it as being ‘more efficient’ over the audit, but it’s really just the Governor wanting to take the control of the situation, instead of the more traditional Legislature. [Former Governor Jerry] Brown did it a few times with the EDD after the 2011 audit, and now Newsom is doing it too.”
GOP remains critical of Newsom’s “strike force”, Dems want further changes to EDD
GOP legislators, who have been critical of the EDD and were hoping for an audit, also noted their disappointment on Thursday over the Governor’s decision.
“Governor Newsom has become notorious for his words — not his actions” said Assemblyman Jim Patterson (R-Fresno) on Thursday. “It’s our responsibility in the Legislature to not only hold the EDD accountable, but the Governor as well.”
Democrats in the Legislature, meanwhile, have said the the Governor’s task force is a good beginning but doesn’t challenge the EDD to make enough changes. Many also noted that many people will still need to wait a month more for claims to go through despite nearly a million Californians needing that UI now.
“Despite months of good-faith efforts to work constructively with EDD leadership to solve the myriad of problems plaguing the agency, little to no progress has been made,” said Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) on Thursday. “Waiting until late September to clear the backlog of unfulfilled claims and to devise a blueprint for web improvements feels inadequate given the number of people left without income since March.”
Updates on the changes to the EDD through the “strike team” are expected to be given in August and September.