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California Workers Still Waiting For Unemployment Benefits

LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — California's unemployment department reported Thursday that it has paid out more than $26 billion in benefits since the pandemic hit, but many say they are still waiting for their money.

Donelle Thompson, a hairstylist for more than 30 years, is one of those people. The single mom said the salon she works at in Santa Monica shut down in mid-March and has not had any income since.

"I am living off of $194 dollars in CalFresh a month and my son's minimum wage job," she said.

Thompson filed for unemployment May 2 when the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program opened up for gig workers.

"To this day, I have not received an award letter," she said. "I have called thousands of times, you can't get through."

The salon Thompson worked at reopened last week, but she said her lack of benefits was keeping her unemployed.

"I can't go back to work, because I can't pay my salon owner rent," she said.

CBSLA has heard from dozens of unemployed workers who have yet to receive benefits and took those concerns straight to the California Employment Development Department.

"The unfortunate situation is we were at record low unemployment and low staffing levels in February," Loree Levy, an EDD spokesperson, said. "This avalanche hit, and now we're continuing to strategize daily as to how we can expand our capacity as quickly as possible."

Kim Barnes applied for unemployment benefits at the end of March and said she has not received a dime from the EDD, even though every week shows "pending."

She said she is owed about $11,000.

"I am going on 10 weeks, and I have not been able to speak to anybody," she said. "How can you possibly dial for weeks and hours and  hours every single day and never get through?"

EDD said it was was trying to fill close to 5,000 positions over the coming weeks to increase its call center capacity, but bringing people on would take time.

"It takes about six months to train somebody because of the complexity of the unemployment insurance program," Levy said.

In the meantime, the EDD said people should just keep calling.

"So right now we are trying to triage as best we can, see if we can get to an expanded call center operation overall and do that as quickly as possible," Levy said.

EDD said that a majority of issues could be addressed online, but not enough people were using the website. As for Thompson's and Barnes' claims, the EDD said someone would reach out to them to try to get their cases resolved.

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