With thousands of Californians still waiting for unemployment checks because of a computer problem that has delayed payments for weeks, the Brown administration on Tuesday ordered the Employment Development Department to begin paying backlogged claims for continued benefits before determining if they are eligible for payment.
Calling the backlog "unacceptable," Marty Morgenstern, secretary of the state Labor and Workforce Development Agency, told EDD Chief Deputy Director Sharon Hilliard in a memorandum that without such action "it is unlikely that the claims backlog will be reduced quickly enough to respond to the very real financial hardship now being experienced by too many of our residents relying on timely payment of their UI benefits."
Morgenstern said, "Consequently, I am directing EDD to immediately begin the process of paying backlogged claims for continued UI benefits prior to a final determination of eligibility."
Final determinations of eligibility for backlogged claims "will have to be completed later and at that time EDD will act to recover any resulting overpayments that might occur," the memo said.
Loree Levy, an EDD spokeswoman, said in an email late Tuesday night that Hilliard received Morgenstern's memo and that EDD "will begin paying all backlogged UI claims without any further delays."
She said claimants who currently have claims in the backlog will begin receiving payments as soon as Thursday.
EDD, which is upgrading its 30-year-old unemployment insurance processing system, said early last week that about 50,000 Californians had claims delayed after the department converted several years of old data into a new processing system over the Labor Day weekend. The problem quickly grew wider, however. By Friday, EDD said about 185,000 of the state's nearly 800,000 people receiving benefits had been affected, with about 80,000 backlogged claims yet to be cleared.
The department put hundreds of employees to work over the weekend, hoping to put a significant dent in the backlog. The effort was largely unsuccessful. Though EDD said it cleared about 43,000 claims from the backlog over the weekend and another 11,000 claims Monday, new claims replaced the ones EDD cleared, and the backlog of submissions older than 10 days remained about 80,000 as of Tuesday afternoon.
Morgenstern acknowledged what he said were "multiple steps" by EDD "to aggressively deal with backlogged certifications," including redirecting staff from other program areas to help process claims and increasing overtime.
However, he said such efforts are unlikely to be sufficient. He said paying backlogged claims for continued unemployment benefits before a final determination of eligibility is consistent with U.S. Department of Labor guidelines.
"It is my expectation that this payment action along with the dedication of additional staff resources will expedite the elimination of the backlog and the payment of UI benefits to those most in need in the shortest possible time," Morgenstern wrote.
PHOTO: Binders full of job resources at the Employment Development Department office in Sacramento on Thursday February 14, 2008. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton