Gov. Gavin Newsom has announced a series of actions to better serve workers who have experienced job loss during the COVID-19 pandemic, including the formation of an Employment Development Department (EDD) strike team, and a renewed focus on processing unpaid claims.
The strike team—which will be headed by Government Operations Agency Secretary Yolanda Richardson and Jennifer Pahlka, who co-founded the United States Digital Response, the United States Digital Service, and founded the Code for America—will create a blueprint for improvements at EDD, including a reimagining of their technology systems.
Further, EDD will begin addressing the backlog of unpaid claims by streamlining communications with consumers.
“There should be no barriers between Californians and the benefits they have earned,” said Newsom. “Unprecedented demand due to job loss during this pandemic paired with an antiquated system have created an unacceptable backlog of claims. Californians deserve better, and these reform efforts aim to move the Department in that direction.”
“While we have faced unprecedented challenges this year, unemployment insurance should be a human-centered system that supports people during hard times. From the first contact to final resolution and all communication in between, we are committed making the UI experience better for Californians,” said Julie A. Su, secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency.
Since March, EDD has processed more than 8 million unemployment insurance claims and distributed more than $49 billion in unemployment benefits. EDD has implemented several federal benefits programs since the onset of the pandemic, created a seven-days-a-week new call center for customer technical assistance needs, and both redirected and hired thousands of staff to assist impacted Californians with information and resources.
Specifically, Newsom announced that he will:
• Deploy a strike team to modernize information technology programs and transform the customer experience.
The strike team will be supported by the California Department of Technology (CDT) and the Office of Digital Innovation (ODI). The strike team will identify steps to transform the unemployment insurance customer experience for the digital age. Within 45 days, the strike team will deliver a roadmap that outlines short-, mid- and long-term recommendations and solutions to transform the customer experience of applying for and receiving UI benefits.
• Focus on immediately processing claims.
Prioritizing the oldest claims first, EDD is actively processing all claims in the “Pending Resolution” category and anticipates eliminating the backlog of actionable claims by the end of September. To assist with addressing the almost 1 million claims that may be eligible for payment with additional information, EDD will initiate immediate and weekly reminders to claimants to certify their claim. Going forward, EDD will work with the Legislature and advocates to create more user-friendly notifications and enhance the UI Online customer service experience.
EDD will also streamline the call center experience including an updated Interactive Voice Response (IVR) automation with the goal of routing a caller to a call center representative who has specialized training with that specific issue.
• Enhance partnerships with the Legislature to improve communication with claimants.
Building on bi-weekly meetings with legislators and staff, EDD hopes to leverage the Legislature’s unique ability to connect with their constituents to assist with improving communication with claimants. EDD will collaborate with legislators and staff to amplify EDD messaging regarding certification requirements – claimants need to certify every two weeks – this message needs to be more broadly shared on a regular basis, as well as work in partnership to adjust FAQs and responses to the common questions constituents have raised. Input from legislative offices has been integral for the department in identifying areas of focus and we look forward to working with the Legislature to improve the Department in the months to come.
The announcement builds on recent actions to strengthen the system, including:
• Standing up several federal pandemic-related programs, including Pandemic Additional Compensation; Pandemic Unemployment Assistance; Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation; and Federal-State Extended Duration (FED-ED), and modernizing Work Share;
• Creating and staffing a technical assistance call center in April available seven days a week from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. in both English and Spanish;
• Redirecting more than 600 staff from other units and 700 staff from other departments to assist the UI Branch full time;
• Creating an online chat bot to provide claimants information and resource on frequently asked questions. It has received 3.6 million inquiries since it was launched in April;
• Launching a text messaging alert system regarding claim status. Around 7 million texts have been sent to nearly 3 million claimants since its launch;
• Hiring of 5,300 new temporary employees; EDD worked with CalHR to expedite the hiring process. Over 4,700 employees have been approved for hire so far, and are in various stages of onboarding, training and deployment;
• Enhancing the federal Work Sharing Program, which helps businesses avert layoffs by reducing staff hours and allowing staff to receive both part-time earnings and a prorated percentage of UI benefits, thereby keeping their jobs and allowing the business to remain open.