Sequestration strikes again.
On Thursday, the California Employment Development Department said a $158 million shortfall in federal funds over the next year is forcing it to dramatically reduce hours of telephone service at unemployment insurance customer service centers.
The centers, which EDD said are already understaffed, handle individual questions and claims for benefits.
Starting Monday, EDD said, personnel will take calls from unemployed workers from 8 a.m. to noon, Monday through Friday (except state holidays). The current telephone service hours are 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.
EDD said call volume typically is heaviest on weekday mornings.
Under the revised arrangement, the department said all available staff will answer phone lines in the morning, then focus afternoon work on processing applications for benefits, answering online questions from claimants and determining eligibility issues to help get benefits processed and paid.
"We are very concerned about the impact of the federal funding shortfall on our staffing levels and are working very hard to mitigate the effects on services," said EDD Director Pam Harris. "We urge our customers to use self-help options whenever possible so our limited staff can be available to help those with more complex needs."
EDD said federal funding reductions total an estimated $158 million in a combination of new "sequestration" cuts the term used for across-the-board federal budget cuts and existing administrative underfunding.
EDD said it is already down 900 staffers in the unemployment insurance program due to attrition. EDD said the program had about 3,700 staffers in the summer of 2010 and is down to 2,800. Officials said demand for jobless benefits recently has declined along with unemployment, but demand remains twice what it was in 2007.
If nothing changes in the federal funding picture, EDD said it stands to lose another 1,600 employees supporting the insurance program over the next 15 months.
The department said a new unemployment insurance online option is scheduled to launch this summer. In the meantime, other self-help alternatives available to claimants include:
Go to https://eapply4ui.edd.ca.gov to file a new claim or reopen a claim for benefits.
Go to EDD's general website (www.edd.ca.gov), or check EDD updates on Facebook, Twitter or YouTube.
Call the U.S. Department of Labor toll-free help line at (877) 872-5627 to find a nearby One-Stop Career Center.
Call The Bee's Mark Glover, (916) 321-1184.