Help is on the way to California’s struggling Employment Development Department, the Brown administration announced Friday.
A letter issued by Labor and Workforce Development Secretary David Lanier said the department in coming weeks will add about 800 full-time and intermittent employees to bolster its unemployment insurance program.
“It is clear we must retain skilled staff and hire additional workers,” Lanier wrote in the letter to EDD Chief Deputy Director Sharon Hilliard. “However, addressing this problem cannot wait for the completion of the budget process” which runs through June.
The state Department of Finance figures the extra help and other fixes to the program will cost an additional $43.4 million in the current year’s federal funds and tens of millions of dollars more in soon-to-be-allocated state funds. Lanier said the money will go to:
• Hire 280 new program workers beginning March 1.
• Continue overtime through the end of the fiscal year and beyond as needed.
• Extend the employment of 250 intermittent employees to June 30, 2015.
• Rehire 50 former employees who know the system and can immediately start work.
• Hire 155 employees to replace rank and file, and management employees who have recently left or will soon leave.
• Bring in “additional programming expertise” to fix its unemployment insurance payment system.
The department will also launch a “virtual hold” phone system that will give callers the option to receive a call back from EDD staff instead of waiting on hold or calling again to reach someone.
Another phone upgrade will send an automated-call reminder of scheduled eligibility determination appointments, which can be set up to three weeks away from when residents first apply for jobless benefits.
EDD has suffered a series of setbacks over the last few months, highlighted by a glitch-plagued computer system rollout over the Labor Day weekend that cut off unemployment benefits to roughly 150,000 Californians. The crisis sparked a flood of phone calls from upset beneficiaries and forced the department to process some claims by hand without verifying applicants’ eligibility.
Meanwhile, a federally mandated change in the length of jobless benefits added public confusion and more calls to EDD even as it grapples with deep cuts in future federal funding.
Call Jon Ortiz, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 321-1043.