EDD promises service improvements

EDD promises service improvements

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KBAK/KBFX) — Improvements and more staff are coming to the state's Employment Development Department.

On Friday, state officials promised hundreds more workers will be hired, and technology will be added to the EDD phone lines.

For more than a year, Eyewitness News has investigated hundreds of viewer complaints that they simply cannot reach anyone to get help with their unemployment benefits.

"Today I am directing the Employment Development Department (EDD) to take immediate action to further improve California's Unemployment Insurance (UI) program," reads a Feb. 7 letter from California Labor Secretary David Lanier.

"Despite the best efforts of the EDD to increase service to unemployed Californians, technical problems with the UI payment system coupled with grossly inadequate federal funding have resulted in unacceptable levels of payment delays and unanswered phone calls," he continues.

Some Eyewitness News viewers would strongly agree with that. Many people said they'd called repeatedly through the day, or spent weeks on-end trying to get help from EDD.

A second letter out on Feb. 7 is from the state Department of Finance, and it said EDD will spend an additional $43.4 million in federal funds in the current year to "maximize service."

"While the Governor's Budget proposed a $64 million package of efficiencies and supplemental funding, the program continues to receive a greater demand for services," that letter reads. "Since the release of the Governor's Budget, it has become clear that both additional resources are needed, and the enhanced efforts must begin sooner."

According to EDD officials, that will start with hiring 280 additional staff for the Unemployment Insurance program. A spokeswoman said the department will immediately start the hiring process, with the goal of getting new staff on board in March.

The EDD plan is to also continue paying overtime to workers handling claim applications and processing.

A department spokesman said the plan includes funds to re-hire 50 former employees through the end of June 2015, and to replace "highly skilled staff and managers" who have recently left EDD or are expected to leave in the next few months.

And, they promise to improve the phone systems. "The plan implements two new features, virtual hold and automatic call notification technology, to improve service to UI claimants who call EDD," one letter states.

EDD officials said their operation has been hurt by federal cuts and the continued high numbers of unemployed Californians needing benefits. But, a number of lawmakers have called for big changes.

"The challenges EDD faces were years in the making and won't be fixed overnight," reads the letter from Secretary Lanier.

The statement from the EDD promises improvements are on the way.

Coupled with the ability to hire new staff and retain current staff, the EDD anticipates major gains in the weeks and months ahead on being more available to answer our customers' calls and processing their claim work more timely."