The State Worker

California to bulk up unemployment aid staff

Help is on the way to California’s struggling Employment Development Department.

According to a letter issued today by Labor and Workforce Development Secretary David Lanier, 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 current-year federal funds and tens of millions of dollars more in soon-to-be-allocated state funds. Laird said the money will go to:

• Hire 280 new program staff beginning Mar. 1.

• Extend the employment of 250 intermittent employees to June 30, 2015.

• Rehire 50 former employees who know the system and can immediate 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 an automated phone system that will allow EDD staff to return calls rather put callers on hold or to disconnect them when the lines are full.

EDD has suffered a series of setbacks over the last few months, highlighted by a glitch-plagued computer system roll-out 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 that added public confusion and more calls to EDD even as it grapples with deep cuts in future federal funding.

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