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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.”

Activism

School Board Candidate is Mayor’s Staffer with Privatizer Connections

Mungia’s work on behalf of Mayor Schaaf’s education agenda is part of what troubles school advocates. Schaaf, a longtime supporter of charter schools, has spoken forcefully in the media in favor of closing as many as half of the city’s public schools.

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Kyra Mungia
Kyra Mungia

By Ken Epstein

The candidacy of Kyra Mungia, one of nine applicants who wish to fill the vacant District 6 seat on the Oakland Board of Education, has raised concerns from public school advocates about her connections to pro-charter school organizations and school privatizers.

The school board was faced with filling this vacancy when Board member Shanthi Gonzales recently resigned. The six remaining school board members are scheduled to vote before the end of June to fill the seat until January, when a new board member, elected in November, will take office.

According to Mungia’s resume, she has worked in Mayor Libby Schaaf’s Office from June 2016 to the present, currently serving as the mayor’s Deputy Director of Education.

However, a search of payroll records from 2016-2021 on Transparent California does not show Mungia as a payee by the City of Oakland for her job in the Mayor’s Office.

In a reply to questions from the Oakland Post, the Mayor’s spokesperson replied that Ms. Mungia’s salary is paid by a non-profit organization.

“Her employee position (and salary) is funded by The Oakland Public Education Fund. Ms. Mungia, like all Office of the Mayor staff — regardless of their salary’s funding source — [is] required to fill out public disclosure documents, including Form 700, and abide by all rules and regulations required of a city employee,” said the mayor’s spokesperson Justin Berton.

Form 700 lists Mungia as a Lee Public Policy Fellow. Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE) is tied to a charter school advocacy group.

Mungia’s work on behalf of Mayor Schaaf’s education agenda is part of what troubles school advocates. Schaaf, a longtime supporter of charter schools, has spoken forcefully in the media in favor of closing as many as half of the city’s public schools.

Mungia has a considerable history with organizations that have a reputation for support for charter schools and from privatizers, including several that paid for a series of fellowships in the Mayor’s Office.

She began her career in Oakland as an elementary teacher for three years in East Oakland, working at least part of the time for Teach for America, which is tied to privatizers. Also, while working as a teacher, she served as a GO Public Schools Fellow.

GO is a charter-friendly organization that has spent $1,112,526 in Oakland school board elections since 2012, predominantly funded by out-of-town billionaires like Michael Bloomberg, Arthur Rock and Stacy Schusterman.

She was paid by the Oakland Public Education Fund (Ed Fund) in 2019-2020 for her work on Oakland Promise, the Mayor’s nonprofit, according to the Ed Fund’s IRS filings.

According to Ms. Mungia’s public LinkedIn resume, her career in the Mayor’s Office started in June 2016 with a three-month fellowship paid by Urban Leaders, an organization with a list of partners that includes KIPP (charter school chain), Educate78 (a charter expansion organization), GO Public Schools, and other pro-charter groups.

She continued in the mayor’s office with another fellowship through June 2017 paid by Leadership for Educational Equity (LEE), an organization whose political arm gave $25,000 to the Power2Families PAC in 2000, which then bankrolled the candidacies of Austin Dannhaus for the OUSD District 1 seat, and Maiya Edgerly for the OUSD District 3 seat. Both candidates lost their races — despite record spending by Power2Families and other school privatizer organizations — to Sam Davis and VanCedric Williams.

In 2019, Mungia was a Surge Fellow in the Mayor’s office, a Black and Brown leadership development program, funded by wealthy backers of charter expansion, including the Walton Family Foundation and Michael Bloomberg.

Rochelle Jenkins, A District-6 parent, said she wanted the school board to pick a district representative who would speak for parents’ and families’ interests. “I hope the school board will choose a candidate who will represent our students and families first, and not Mayor Schaff and out-of-town billionaires.”

“In 2020, monied charter school interests tried to defeat a parent running in District 1 by spending big against him, but voters rejected that. It is incumbent on the school board to select a parent who will genuinely represent D6 families, and who won’t be given a leg-up because they intend to run in November,” said OUSD parent Rachel Latta.

In addition to seeking the temporary appointed position, Mungia is running for a four-year term in November as the District 6 representative.

Along with Mungia, the following eight candidates have applied for the vacant appointed position. They are:

Azlinah Tambu is a mother of two OUSD students at Parker Elementary. Since the announcement of intended school closures, she has been a leader in the fight to keep Parker open. She has lived in District 6 for eight years and in Oakland for 14 years.

David (Joel) Velasquez is an Oakland parent, an engineer and a business owner and has been involved with the district for 20 years. He has lived in District 6 for eight years.

David Correa, a former middle school teacher in OUSD for 10 years, currently manages the Victoria Theatre in San Francisco. He has two children in elementary school and has lived in Oakland for 12 years.

Janell Hampton has lived in Oakland for almost 40 years, including 10 years in District 6. She works for the California School Employees Association (CSEA), which represents food service workers, custodians, groundskeepers, para educators, bus drivers and security officers. She is a graduate of Skyline High School.

Julie Mendoza worked as an English teacher at Roosevelt Middle School in Oakland. She has lived nine years in Oakland, including four in District 6.

Kim Davis, a district 6 parent and long-time education advocate in Oakland, is a leader and founder of Parents United for Public Schools. She has lived in District 6 for 19 years.

Natalee Kēhaulani Bauer is professor and chair of the Race, Gender and Sexuality Studies department at Mills College She taught in OUSD schools from 1997 to 2005. She has lived in District 6 for 3 years and in Oakland for 27 years.

Tamecca Brewer (Anderson) was a math teacher in OUSD from 1995 to 1999. She now serves as an assistant manager for the Alameda County Library system.

She has been a District 6 resident for 22 years. As a student, she attended OUSD schools.

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Activism

Title IX: 37 Words That Changed Everything

Civil rights attorney and Alameda County District Attorney primary winner Pamela Price has long been recognized as a significant contributor for the enactment of the groundbreaking Title IX legislation because of her role as the lead Plaintiff in the first sexual harassment lawsuit, Alexander (Price) v. Yale. Her story as the Plaintiff and later as a leading civil rights attorney making new law under Title IX is featured in Sherry Boschert’s new book, 37 Words. Her fight for justice as a young woman is also featured in the ESPN documentary “37 Words” which will air on ESPN channels starting on June 21st.

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37 Words Author Sherry Boschert in front of poster with keynote speaker Pamela Price. (Photo courtesy of Price).
37 Words Author Sherry Boschert in front of poster with keynote speaker Pamela Price. (Photo courtesy of Price).

By Post Staff

Civil rights attorney and Alameda County District Attorney primary winner Pamela Price was a featured guest at the 50th Anniversary celebration of Title IX in Washington, D.C., sponsored by the National Women’s Law Center (NWCL).

Price participated in a casual conversation with NWLC President and CEO, Fatima Goss Graves and Sherry Boschert, author of 37 Words, about the importance of Title IX and continuing to defend gender rights.

Price said the invitation-only audience included 75 high level women’s policy advocates and leaders from student chapters fighting on behalf of Title IX rights from around the country, as well as some of the behind-the-scenes pioneers of Title IX.

Attorney Price has long been recognized as a significant contributor for the enactment of the groundbreaking Title IX legislation because of her role as the lead Plaintiff in the first sexual harassment lawsuit, Alexander (Price) v. Yale. Her story as the Plaintiff and later as a leading civil rights attorney making new law under Title IX is featured in Sherry Boschert’s new book, 37 Words. Her fight for justice as a young woman is also featured in the ESPN documentary “37 Words” which will air on ESPN channels starting on June 21st.

The National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) is a non-profit organization that has been on the leading edge of every major legal and policy victory for women and girls for nearly 50 years.

NWLC launched a yearlong effort to mark its 50th anniversary as well as a refreshed strategic plan that will forge its efforts to ensure that women and girls — especially those of color and members of the LGBTQ+ community — can live, learn, and work with safety, dignity, and equality.

Earlier this month, in anticipation of Title IX’s 50th anniversary on June 23, 2022, the National Coalition for Women and Girls in Education (NCWGE) which includes 35 organizations advocating for gender justice in education including the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), the American Federation of Teachers, and the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) released a report, “Title IX At 50”. The report takes a look at Title IX’s impact over the last half century, celebrating the significant progress to end sex discrimination in education, while recognizing the work that remains to be done.

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Activism

Tenants Protest Management Practices at New Oakland Veteran Housing

During visits this month, this reporter found the doors to common areas at Embark locked. When residents tried to open these doors, they were unsuccessful, with the exception of a second-floor balcony, which residents claim was recently reopened. That area was overgrown with weeds. Lyons stated the companies are now looking for a landscape vendor to clean up that area.

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Tenants Deidre Robinson (left) and Sergeant First Class Rodney B. Burton (right) sit on the second-floor balcony of Embark Apartments, a recently opened affordable housing complex for veterans. The area is overgrown with weeds. Photo by Zack Haber.
Tenants Deidre Robinson (left) and Sergeant First Class Rodney B. Burton (right) sit on the second-floor balcony of Embark Apartments, a recently opened affordable housing complex for veterans. The area is overgrown with weeds. Photo by Zack Haber.

By Zack Haber

Since March of last year, tenants at Embark, an affordable apartment complex for veterans in Downtown Oakland, have been demanding that the companies that oversee and own their buildings address safety and habitability issues and provide residents with respectful management that is free of harassment.

“It’s such a nice building,” said tenant Deidre Robinson. “But they’re actively destroying it, and I don’t understand why.”

Robinson, along with most of her neighbors living in the 63-unit Veterans Affairs (VA) subsidized apartment complex that opened in early 2020, is a Black veteran. While Embark is publicly funded, it is privately owned and operated.

The San Francisco-based John Stewart Company, which oversees 372 buildings in California, serves as property manager while the Berkeley based non-profit, Resources for Community Development (RCD), owns the building. In addition to Embark, RCD owns 59 other affordable Bay Area properties.

After a period of homelessness and struggling with severe depression, Robinson has used VA services to secure stable employment and what she calls her “forever home” at Embark. Her new apartment made her “super happy” at first, but she no longer feels safe there.

She says she regularly encounters people who don’t live at Embark but enter the complex without permission.

“I take mace when I go to the laundry room,” said Robinson, “because I find hostile people there who don’t want to let me wash my clothes when they’re sleeping there.”

According to Robinson, she often finds human feces and urine in halls and stairways and her packages often go missing. She suspects people who break in are responsible for these problems and says management won’t investigate to find who is responsible, even though the complex contains security cameras in all common areas.

In an email representing a collaborative response from John Stewart Company and RCD, Communications and Marketing Director Lauren Lyons wrote that the companies “are aware of some incidents of loitering, package theft and public urination,” but that their staff “confront non-residents, monitor our security systems to prevent theft as much as possible, and have frequent janitorial/cleaning schedules.”

She also wrote they “provide footage to the local police whenever they conduct an investigation.”

During a tour of Embark that a tenant named Sergeant First Class (SFC) Rodney B Burton hosted on a weekday afternoon of this month, this reporter encountered food scraps on sticky dusty hallway floors while what appeared to be human feces lay in a stairway. A person walked through Embark’s unlocked front door who apologized and immediately left when SFC Burton confirmed he wasn’t a resident.

During nighttime visits, this reporter found a side fire exit door unlocked at Embark, allowing easy entrance to the building from the street.

In late 2020 and early 2021, Embark tenants began to organize to collectively address problems. They’ve sent two letters to John Stewart Company and RCD to express their grievances and list demands. In the first letter, sent in March 2021, they announced the formation of the Embark Veterans Tenants Association and wrote that “though our building is new…profit is being put before us tenants.”

They demanded that “all outstanding rent be zeroed out” due to the COVID-19 pandemic and asked that management regularly give rent and utility receipts to tenants so they can better keep track of their finances and hold the companies accountable for any errors. The demands related to finances came, in part, due to residents receiving notices they felt constituted harassment and intimidation.

“I’ve been harassed by managers” said SFC Burton, “and they intimidated some other veterans that constructively evicted themselves, even though there’s a moratorium on evictions.”

This reporter obtained two Notice to Pay Rent or Quit letters that John Stewart Company had sent to residents in August and July of 2020 which stated, “If you fail to either pay the total amount of rent due in full or return possession of the premises…you may be evicted.”

According to SFC Burton, a few of his neighbors felt intimidated and left after receiving such notices demanding payment that they couldn’t pay. At that time though, as well as now, an Oakland based eviction moratorium would have prevented John Stewart Company or RCD from winning any eviction case at Embark against a tenant for nonpayment of rent.

In an email to this reporter, Lyons, the companies’ spokesperson, wrote that in 2020 “Property managers sent notices to all RCD residents who had an unpaid balance on their account,” and also stated such notices included information about rental assistance. None of the notices from 2020 this reporter saw contained such info, but one notice from summer of last year listed contact info for agencies that help with rental assistance.

According to Oliver Yan, who worked as Resident Services Coordinator at Embark from its opening till fall of last year, the companies weren’t helping tenants’ efforts to secure rent relief during his tenure.

“I would actually argue they were working against those efforts,” Yan said.

Yan claims that the bulk of his job had been trying to get Embark tenants rent relief funds, but the process was “extremely frustrating,” in large part due to John Stewart Company’s “bad accounting practices.” Yan needed accurate accounting information to help tenants secure rent relief but often couldn’t obtain it due to the management and ownership’s resistance.

“John Stewart Company was actively fighting me,” he said, “and RCD was not helping.”

According to Embark tenants, accounting problems persist. On March 31, 24 members of Embark’s tenant union sent another letter of demands to the companies. Residents asked for full rent and utility receipts from March 2020 till the present time, which they say they still haven’t received. California Code of Civil Procedure requires any property owner to provide receipts to tenants for rent payments.

Additionally, Embark tenants objected in their March 31 letter to “community spaces,” such as shared social rooms and balconies, being “inaccessible for residents for the last two years,” even though they’d seen management using them.

According to Lyons “common areas are not currently closed” but had been closed “during the height of the pandemic.”

During visits this month, this reporter found the doors to common areas at Embark locked. When residents tried to open these doors, they were unsuccessful, with the exception of a second-floor balcony, which residents claim was recently reopened. That area was overgrown with weeds. Lyons stated the companies are now looking for a landscape vendor to clean up that area.

Tenants at Embark had formed their union in early 202, affiliating with Bay Area Tenants and Neighborhood Councils, a tenant union with over 500 members, also known as Bay Area TANC.

TANC and Embark residents held BBQs to help spread the word about tenant organizing. According to SFC Burton, over 40 people are now meeting every month to organize about Embark tenant issues, and they’ve had success getting rent and utility relief for many Embark residents.

“It’s been really fun to work with TANC, and efficient,” said SFC Burton. “Without organizing, I don’t even want to think about what would have happened.”

Juleon Robinson, a TANC member who has been organizing at the complex, feels he’s learned a lot from Embark tenants.

“I’ve learned about patience,” he said. “[SFC Burton] knows everyone in that building, and he’s checking in with them all the time. Relationships are so important for organizing.”

Embark is not the only John Stewart Company/RCD building where tenants have been organizing. Tenants at Fox Courts, a nearby complex with 80 apartments for low-income tenants, which John Stewart Company manages, and RCD owns, have also unionized, affiliating last year with TANC and forming the Fox Courts Tenant Council.

Fox Courts tenant Annie Coffin was motivated to organize because, while she had been happy when she moved into the then new complex in 2009, she thinks conditions at Fox Courts have worsened.

“When I first moved in this place was nice,” said Coffin. “But now you have to argue with management to get the base minimum of upkeep.”

Some of Coffin’s complaints about Fox Courts echo those at Embark. She says people break in and defecate or vomit in common areas. Packages go missing, and she says management and ownership don’t do anything to stop it. She’s also complained that management harassed her neighbors and those who visit her. In November 2021, Fox Court Tenant Council wrote a letter, which 36 tenants signed, demanding “regular maintenance of common space, immediate habitability repairs” and “accountable available and respectful management.” In April of this year, the union made 15 specific demands in another letter.

Unlike at Embark, John Stewart Company and RCD did formally respond to the Fox Courts letters. Lyons says the company has also “recently met with 23 [Fox Courts] households who attended a resident meeting.” According to Fox Court tenants, the companies have corrected some, but not all, of their concerns.

Meanwhile, at Embark, Deidre Robinson hopes John Stewart Company and RCD address the problems there and treat the complex “like the blessing that it is.”

“We just want someone who cares who comes in and out of the building,” she said, “and why they can’t open up the community rooms is beyond me. It’s almost like John Stewart Company is unaware this is a complex full of veterans.”

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