LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Four million people have filed for unemployment in California in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, and many of them have been frustrated by long waits while calling into the state hotline for help.
A phone worker for the California Employment Development Department who spoke with CBS Los Angeles on the condition of anonymity said the system was "not working right now."
Video sent to news organizations by the EDD shows workers in the office on phones, handling paperwork and assisting people with unemployment claims — many who have not had appreciable income in months.
"They're begging, they're crying, they're cursing," the worker said of the callers.
But the reality of the situation is much different, according to the phone worker. He said many of the people who answer phone calls for the EDD work from home, sitting in front of computer screens with chatrooms that link the individual agents to their supervisors.
And as those agents try to help millions of Californians trying to get their unemployment benefits, the worker said they are also asking their supervisors for guidance because they initially only receive one day of training.
"I know they just hired a whole bunch of new agents," the worker said. "And they get a phone call, and they don't know what to do. They ask the supervisor and they hope that the supervisor actually responds to the chatroom."
According to chatroom logs shared with CBS Los Angeles, some of the questions showed that workers were not even sure how to use the basic system.
"Is there a redial feature," one agent asked. "I clicked to take off hold and either they hung up or I somehow hung them up."
Other agents were asking if the unemployed workers they were talking with were eligible for benefits, if they should use the same pin as a debit card or whether a claim review should be done.
One agent even called out other phone agents, writing in all caps:
"STOP TRANSFERRING CALLS AND STOP LYING TO CALLERS. I JUST HAD A CALLER SAY THAT HE WAS TRANSFERRED TO ME AND TOLD THAT HE WAS BEING TRANSFERRED TO A CLAIM SPECIALIST."
When asked about whether agents were lying to workers, the phone worker said there was "a lot of that going on."
The state said because of record unemployment and low staffing, the department has had to bring in almost 5,000 temporary employees to handle the increase in volume, likening the process to building a plane in midair.
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