Disabled disability system? Promises of help from Calif. EDD

Disabled disability system? Promises of help from Calif. EDD »Play Video
The California Employment Development Department (EDD) debit card is seen in a state image.

Editor's note: We have new information as of Friday. The EDD now asks us to email them information about viewers who can't get information on their claims. Please provide a name, good phone number, and whether the case in question is a claim for unemployment or disability.

Please send the information to Carol Ferguson at cferguson@bakersfieldnow.com. We'll be sending lists of viewers who want help. The EDD says someone from the appropriate unit will contact our viewers.

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — After saying they suffer with no benefits and no answers, there may be help for local residents trying to get their disability and unemployment benefits. Eyewitness News is investigating a number of complaints about the Employment Development Department.

Thursday morning, an EDD spokeswoman said viewers with problems can contact her directly by email. Eyewitness News passed that address along to more than a dozen viewers who reported they tried many, many times but could never get through to the department, and cannot get their benefits.

"I'm facing eviction, my PG&E's not paid," Dianne Jones said, tearfully. Outside her apartment, neighbors were holding a yard sale to raise money so she can pay the rent, Jones said. She's very frustrated. "Wouldn't you be, with 57 days and no income?" she said.

Jones says she's tried repeatedly to reach the EDD through both their phone system and online, but she's not getting any response.

That's what another viewer had complained about on Thursday. Sherry only wanted to give her first name, she's trying to get short-term disability benefits after having surgery.

On Thursday, Eyewitness News contacted EDD spokeswoman Catalina Martinez. Friday morning, Martinez emailed a message that viewers with problems could contact her directly by email. That's what Sherry did immediately.

Sherry said she got a call back from Martinez in about 15 minutes, who then forwarded her case to another EDD worker. That spokesman got back to her by mid-afternoon, and searched for her file for a few minutes.

At that point, the EDD spokesman said Sherry's check would be in the mail Friday. She hoped to finally get the help, after struggling for weeks. Sherry had repeatedly tried to reach anybody at the EDD.

"I've called every day, five days a week," Sherry had said. "Not once have I spoken to a live person."

Eyewitness News heard that from a flood of viewers. On Thursday we called them back to pass along the EDD spokeswoman's email address. All the viewers said they could never get through on the EDD phone system.

Dianne Jones suffered through that. "You get that little cue that says, 'We're currently receiving too many phone calls,' and then they hang up on you," Jones said. "And you have to start all over." She tried at various times of the day, and first thing in the morning -- nothing worked.

The same thing happened to Debbie Rice. "It's really frustrating when you just can't talk to a person," she said. Rice is dealing with a chronic health condition, and needs her disability benefits. "I've paid into the system, I've worked full time for 40 years," she said.

Rice said she needs to reach an EDD spokesman to ask if they've received the paperwork from her doctor, and if the money is coming. Rice said since February she's only been able to get through on the system twice.

On Thursday, EDD spokeswoman Catalina Martinez said the department is doing their best, and they've tried to improve the system.

"To our knowledge there are no problems with our phone system or the website," Martinez said. But, she asked the public for patience, and apologized for any delays in getting assistance. "We're really sorry, and I understand that can be very, very frustrating," she said.

Dianne Jones heard that response, and wasn't impressed. "Hire somebody," she countered.

Jones got so frustrated at the lack of any response from the EDD, she started calling elected officials.

"I've contacted (Governor) Jerry Brown's office, and was told he was too busy to help me," Jones said. Next the frustrated woman called Kern County Supervisor Mike Maggard, and says she was then referred to the office of Assembly Member Shannon Grove. "They're wonderful over there," she said.

Rice said it's outrageous that she can't reach the EDD, and can't even reach someone to complain about the lack of contact. "They've got to either add more people to answer their phones, or they need to actually answer the phone," she said.

And several viewers had similar complaints about the EDD website. "You get logged on, and it takes you right back to like a continual loop," Jones said. "It takes you back, asks you to log on again, and log on again. It's frustrating."

Other viewers say they sent in emails on the website, but never get a response, so they have no idea if their messages got through.

Sherry said it was the direct email that finally made a difference on Thursday. She told Eyewitness News the EDD spokesman who helped her said there was a "burp in the system" with her claim. Now, she's hoping for the best.

Dianne Jones said she'll email the EDD spokeswoman, too. She just needs some unemployment benefits while she looks for work. It's the first time she's been without a job in about 15 years. But, for the last 18 months she's struggled to find full time work. She also figures she's paid into the system.

"Where do you go? What do you do?" she says about the problem reaching anyone at EDD. "You fall into the cracks, and nobody really cares. And this is crazy."