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California Unemployment System Backlogged With Over 200,000 Claims

Many Californians are still waiting for the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) to clear their backlog of claims, with the department’s data page showing over 221,000 claims are pending past 21 days as of June 12.

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California EDD

California may be reopening beginning June 15, but for many unemployed workers, the economic struggle caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near ending.

Many Californians are still waiting for the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) to clear their backlog of claims, with the department’s data page showing over 221,000 claims are pending past 21 days as of June 12.

On May 28, Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson) hosted a press conference featuring constituents from his district who are seeking immediate help from EDD. Three constituents spoke about their struggles while trying to get their unemployment benefits. They experienced extremely long wait times while calling EDD and faced difficulties trying to verify their identity or correct claim amounts with the department.

The difficulties with EDD that the speakers expressed in their stories mirrored complaints the department’s service and call centers have been reporting since the pandemic began last year.

Roneisha Williams, a Gipson constituent, is waiting on an appeal after receiving an incorrect benefit amount. She described her experience communicating with EDD representatives over the phone as “confusing.”

She said that she received conflicting information from the EDD and representatives asked her for a different set of documents each time she called.

“When you call and speak with someone regarding the solution, you’re not given the same information. You can call one representative and they’ll tell you to submit a documentation. You submit that documentation. You call to confirm that it has been received. The other representative will tell you that not only you weren’t supposed to submit that documentation, but really you need to go to this step, and we need to see this documentation.”

Williams also spoke about her difficulties going through the identity verification process with the third-party company ID.me.

EDD launched the ID.me verification process in October 2020 as part of an effort to crack down on fraud. The department also suspended 1.4 million accounts last December and made some claimants verify their identities.

Since then, unemployed Californians directed to ID.me have faced delays and technical issues. Willams also expressed concern for less technologically-savvy claimants who may have to use ID.me.

“Having to contact a third party to qualify for your unemployment benefits is very stressful, especially when they do not have any human contact customer service available. With the ID.me verification, everything is done through your phone. So that in itself is very isolating. I know how to work technology but what about the constituents that aren’t familiar with it. What about the constituents that don’t have a high-powered or accurate camera on their phone to send a copy of their ID?” Williams said.

Roger Lozoya, a pipeline welder who also lives in Gipson’s district, lost his job five months ago and has had no income since. He said his identity was stolen and used to receive EDD benefits. So, when he tried to get benefits, the EDD told him that he owed them money.

Lozoya said, “I’m a welder, and I’m blessed to have a career that I worked hard to get. I pay a lot of taxes and I pay into EDD. The only thing they constantly do to me is call me a liar — that I’m stealing from them. They told me I owe them $69,000. How do I owe $69,000? At the time they were saying that I was claiming it, I was working.”

In the months without income, Lozoya said that he has sold his possessions, including his work truck and tools, to support his family.

During the press conference, Gipson called on the EDD to take measures to get through the claims backlog. He also urged the EDD to extend working hours and keep phone lines open during evenings and weekends.

Gipson also mentioned the state audits of EDD and suggested that implementing the recommendations of the State Auditor would likely help address the backlog.

“We absolutely have to do everything we can to make sure that the people who need this help the most get the help that they’re seeking to put food on the table, clothes their children’s back and also a roof over the head,” said Gipson.

In response to a California Black Media request for comment, EDD Media Services said, “We understand how challenging this pandemic has been for millions of people. Since April 2020, EDD call centers are — and have been open 12 hours a day, seven days a week — which includes evenings and weekends, among many other efforts to continually work to improve the customer experience. EDD offers useful self-help information including a 24-hour self-help line 1-866-333-4606, AskEDD and an online chatbot answering frequently asked questions, a YouTube channel with helpful videos, and many articles on at EDD.ca.gov. The call center can be reached 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week at 1-800-300-5616.“

EDD also shared the actions that the department has taken to improve the customer experience, including, “improving the online help text to clearly explain what is required by the bi-weekly certification questions to help claimants avoid delays, deploying document upload, including a mobile-friendly version, to help claimants save time over mail, launching a new feature that allows a caller to hold their place “in line” when contacting the call center until the EDD calls the claimant back, [and] continuing to monitor customer areas of confusion and trending issues and addressing them with improved public information.”

Bay Area

GETTING TO YES 

BAYSIDE BALL PARK OR WATERFRONT DEVELOPMENT

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Howard Terminal Courtesy Port of Oakland website

Arguably, development of Howard’s Terminal has been in the making for long time.  According to Councilmember Gallo, Oakland’s previous city officials Robert Bobb and Jerry Brown entertained development of Howard’s Terminal, for the Fishers and A’s, during their tenure as city manager and mayor respectively. 

Let’s be clear, the A’s initially pitched its development project at Howard’s Terminal as a Bayside Baseball Stadium, when in essence its project goal has always been a major condominium-housing and business development, along Oakland’s waterfront … the stadium was then and is now just the shinny thing.  Many argue the Coliseum site is more suited for a new stadium development, if that’s really what the A’s want. 

On Tuesday, July 20, 2021, Oakland City Council held a special meeting to consider the Oakland A’s proposal submitted in April 2021; the A’s pressed Council for this special meeting so as to give the A’s an up or down vote on their proposal.  Council voted 6-1, with one abstention, not to support the A’s proposal as submitted.  Council did agree, however, to support the A’s project proposal with certain City amendments.   

Oakland City Council considered their vote to be a big win for Oakland.  On the other hand, A’s President, Dave Kaval, called the City Council’s vote “a swing and a miss.” Based upon the complexity of the pending issues, it appears more time – extended ending – will be necessary for both sides to get to a mutually beneficial yes. 

According to the A’s Kaval, progress has been made in negotiations but, the plan Council voted for on Tuesday “is not a business partnership that works for [A’s] us.”   Moreover, Kaval claims the A’s had not seen some of the amendments Oakland city staff presented to the City Council Tuesday morning before the council’s vote. 

Council-member Rebecca Kaplan said the City Council’s amendments addressed the A’s biggest concern, having to pay for offsite transportation, and infrastructure improvements. However, the A’s still could not agree with the city’s overall offer.   

 Also, the A’s waterfront development project proposal includes some 3000 units of condominium-housing, but the A’s proposal ignored adequate provisions for affordable housing.  The A’s wants the City to waive the A’s legal requirement to provide for affordable housing.  Oakland’s City Council determined that fact to a major sticking point. 

Council President Nikki Fortunato Bas, who worked on the amendments with Vice Mayor Kaplan, said, “It’s (now) at the beginning of the eighth inning.”  As a matter of fact, Council advised the A’s to use Council’s just approved amended Term-Sheet as a road map for further negotiations. 

Following the City Council meeting, Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf said the City and A’s are very close to an agreement, but Kaval said “in some ways it’s too early to say how close the two sides are.”  

Kaval expressed hope that the A’s can get the City Council vote on some terms his team could agree on before Council’s summer recess.  Council President Bas’, office said no council meetings are scheduled before the recess to further negotiate the A’s new waterfront proposal.  

 Negotiation between Oakland’s City Council and the Oakland A’s appears to be headed for extra innings.  The complexity of the issues and public reactions, after Tuesday’s Council vote, gives many citizens cause to pause and wonder if we are at the end of the seventh inning stretch or the bottom of the ninth; either way, getting to a mutually beneficial yes will require a walk-off hit. 

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Community

Walgreens Exiting East Oakland Because Medicare and Medicaid Customers Don’t Generate Enough ‘Green’ for $140 Billion Corporation

The councilmembers of District 7 and District 6 joined with more than 2,500 neighborhood petitioners to condemn the less than one month notice.

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Walgreens 8102 International Blvd, Oakland, Calif./Yellow Pages

Oakland City Councilmembers Treva Reid and Loren Taylor announced that they will press Walgreen’s to abandon their plans to close their pharmacy by July 29 at 8102 International Boulevard.

The councilmembers of District 7 and District 6 joined with more than 2,500 neighborhood petitioners to condemn the less than one month notice.

Taylor and Reid pointed out that Walgreens’ lease still has six month remaining before its expiration in January 2022.

They denounced the abandonment of seniors, especially those who reside at Allen Temple Arms across the street from the pharmacy.

“We are disheartened that in the midst of the pandemic, with many health disparities in diagnoses and with the next available pharmacy located miles away, they are furthering the health crisis,” said Reid. “With all the nurses and medical personnel that patronize this pharmacy they were disrespected to hear of the closing by way of second-hand social media postings. We will continue to pursue this issue at the local, regional and national levels to find other ways to solve this problem.”

Taylor said Walgreens exacerbated the pain of the closing by giving the reason that the high percentage of low-income Medicare and Medicaid patients who get their prescriptions filled results in a lower profit margin for the corporation worth $140 billion. He also pointed out how they were making a mockery of their mission statement which is to “Champion the health and well-being of every community in America.”

Taylor and Reid presented the following fact sheet that answers the questions asked of Walgreens:

So why is Walgreens closing?…

  • The first reason they gave was the rent… After speaking with the property owner I learned that Walgreens asked for close to a 50% reduction of rent and to lock that in for double-digit years, something that the property owner couldn’t afford. In addition, I learned that Walgreens still has six months left on their lease during which they will continue paying their rent.  If Walgreens is obligated to pay its lease through January (even if it chooses not to renew that lease) why close six months early?
  • The second reason they gave was the ‘shrinkage’ – a portion of which is due to theft.  We know this is a problem across the state. The representatives from Walgreens that we talked to this morning admitted that the shrinkage rates due to theft are not as high as in San Francisco where they are closing stores.  This is a problem across the state – even to the point that Gov. (Gavin) Newsom just yesterday (July 22) signed into law a bill extending a program that allows the California Highway Patrol to operate regional task forces to fight organized retail theft with other law enforcement agencies.
  • The third reason that they gave is that the high percentage of Medicaid/ Medicare patients leads to lower profit margins because the state reimbursement is not as high as private insurance.  This reason squarely places low-income residents of California in the crosshairs of any corporate decision to close stores and reduce services.  I reject this rationale for a store closure – especially from a healthcare company where we know in a managed care environment, we must balance the higher profit services with the lower-profit services so that in aggregate we support all residents/ patients.
  • Taylor said, “I stand here today with my fellow Councilmember, Treva Reid, in whose district we stand and she and I represent districts and a population of residents who are often cast aside and marginalized. Districts that still suffer from the effects of institutionalized racism, redlining, white flight and the war on drugs. A true partnership to champion the health and well-being of every community does not occur when a unilateral decision is made to close a store without more than a few weeks’ notice through a sign being posted on a window alerting customers to the closure.

My office was not proactively engaged by Walgreens, and in fact I found out about this based on a Facebook post by a resident who took a picture of the sign.  The communication that came to me through a Walgreens District Manager was that the property owner was being unreasonable.”

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Business

City of Oakland’s Historic Sports Doubleheader: Black Group to Buy Coliseum Complex While Also Urging the A’s to Negotiate to Bring Community Benefits to City Through Howard Terminal

Hours of engaging discourse, bolstered by a throng of community supporters who packed the virtual council meeting with back-to-back appeals, got their wish in a 6-0-2 vote, on Monday, July 20. 

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Oakland Coliseum and Arena/Wikimedia Commons

The African American Sports & Entertainment Group (AASEG, www.aasegoakland.com), received a resounding vote from Oakland City Council members to pursue terms of ownership of the fabled, multiplex sporting venue, the Coliseum Complex.

Hours of engaging discourse, bolstered by a throng of community supporters who packed the virtual council meeting with back-to-back appeals, got their wish in a 6-0-2 vote, on Monday, July 20.  Oakland City Councilmembers approved the resolution brought forward by Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan to begin negotiations with the AASEG to acquire the City’s 50% interest of the Coliseum Complex.

The Oakland A’s bought Alameda County’s half of the Coliseum for $85 million in 2020.

This critical vote came just three days after the Alameda County Joint Powers Authority unanimously approved a resolution to begin negotiating with the AASEG to bring a WNBA team to Oakland.  With these successive actions, the AASEG can formalize negotiations with City staff toward a Purchase and Sell Agreement for the Coliseum Complex.

“This is very important,” said 96-year-old Gladys Green, chair of the Elmhurst Board in Oakland’s 7th District, where the Coliseum sits. “These Black men and women are coming back into this community at a time when we’ve lost so much. It is critical that you move forward with the AASEG proposal.”

Desmond Gumbs is the athletic director of Oakland’s century-old Lincoln University. “This is a strong group,” he said. “We are really excited about their community engagement. Let’s do this. It’s great for our community.”

Councilmembers complimented the AASEG’s impactful community outreach, citing receipt of scores of support letters, in addition to the group’s top priority to maintain a “community first” development approach.

“The historic footprint of this effort is unprecedented,” said AASEG founder Ray Bobbitt.  “It would be the largest award of public land to an African American group in the City’s 169-year history.”

The AASEG proposal includes commitments to revitalize the local community through affordable housing, job creation, public services, hospitality, life sciences, education, retail, public space, sports and entertainment activities.  Voices from the community expressed their hope for much needed infrastructure and quality of life improvements within the East Oakland community.

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