Congressional interns across the state are fielding calls and emails from community members. While some of these calls come from fervent political activists and ranting QAnon believers, innumerable constituents phone in with one concern: unemployment checks.
The Employment Development Department, or EDD, cracked under the pressure after millions of Californians lost their jobs in the pandemic. People are spending hours on hold with the department, only for their calls to land in voicemail.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom’s latest budget proposal — set to be approved mid-June — aims to bail out EDD and provide relief for Californians. The proposed budget will siphon a one-time $276.3 million to EDD to pay for contractors to sift through an astronomical number of claims. The additional resources should allow 3.5 years’ worth of work to be completed in 12 months. But with many still facing financial challenges, time is rapidly running out. For the sake of desperate Californians, Newsom’s administration must act with urgency.
Imagine if 2.7 million Californians flooded the Department of Motor Vehicles to renew their driver’s licenses in a single day. We can all envision the hypothetical chaos — the DMV, like many government institutions, is woefully unprepared for such a spike in demand.
This is the scenario that EDD found itself in, and the stakes are much higher than expired driver’s licenses. Millions of livelihoods now hinge on a floundering bureaucracy. Earlier this month, more than 1 million unemployment claims had yet to be fully addressed.
While Newsom’s proposed budget allocations may provide short-term relief, the pandemic has revealed EDD’s dire need for drastic overhaul. That’s where Senate Bill 232 comes into play.
SB 232, currently under deliberation in the California Legislature, aims to create changes in EDD that will last long after the funds from Newsom dry up. SB 232 will require the department to create model workload projections that account for sudden increases in unemployment and establish a system for tracking and analyzing claims. The bill also stipulates that EDD must develop a recession plan based on previous economic downturns, including the COVID-19 pandemic.
SB 232 must be passed. Newsom’s proposed budget allocations might offer lawmakers a false sense of comfort, but without the substantial changes denoted in SB 232, EDD will likely still be susceptible to backlog and fraud.
As we approach the middle of the 21st century, Californians will face increasingly unpredictable weather patterns, chronic drought and a shifting global economic order. We can no longer afford a social safety net that tears under the weight of its citizens. When COVID-19 put millions of Californians out of work, EDD was unable to rise to the challenge. Our institutions must be prepared for future crises. When the next global catastrophe rocks California to its core, SB 232 might give EDD a fighting chance.