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Campaign Targets California’s EDD Failure

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Beverly Roberts: “Get this problem fixed.” (Photo: Joe  Rihn)

The Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE) held a town hall meeting February 6 to discuss its new Fix Unemployment Now campaign, which aims to make unemployment insurance more accessible in light of recent problems with California’s Employment Development Department (EDD). The meeting, which took place at Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 721’s headquarters in Los Angeles, drew members of ACCE and SEIU, EDD employees and members of the community. (Full Disclosure: The author of this article has previously volunteered for ACCE.)

Fix Unemployment Now primarily addresses EDD’s failure to provide unemployment checks on time and to answer claimants’ questions and concerns. According to ACCE, these problems are related to EDD’s decision to outsource a computer upgrade to Deloitte Consulting, a company that has been fired by other public contractors in the past. According to the Los Angeles Times, EDD is so unresponsive that it answers only a fraction of the phone calls it receives.

Peter Kuhns, a community organizer with ACCE, stressed his group’s member-led model as the reason for choosing to launch Fix Unemployment Now. He cited Beverly Roberts’ experience with the department as a prime example of the campaign’s urgency. Roberts, who led part of the meeting and helped facilitate the discussion, spoke about being overpaid on her unemployment claim and struggling for months to correct the issue.

Roberts is not alone in her problems. Other attendees’ most common complaint was EDD’s lack of customer service. Automated phone systems, no physical offices to visit and the need to classify complaints within narrow categories left participants frustrated and confused. Many expressed the need to talk to a human being instead of a computer.

For SEIU members, there is a flip side to these concerns: fewer jobs in the downsized Employment Development Department. EDD employees also shared their perspective, explaining the difficulty of working in the department and offering advice to help claimants avoid future glitches.

As participants continued to discuss the changes they would like to see, speakers related the conversation to such larger political issues as privatization and job outsourcing. Several participants implored others to hold politicians accountable and become politically active as ways to address the problem and prevent others like it.

However, the primary focus of the meeting remained improving access to employment benefits and EDD customer service. Before adjourning, attendees signed a petition asking to meet with the head of EDD and discussed future actions, including a follow-up town hall meeting scheduled for February 20. In the words of Beverly Roberts, “All we want to do is get this problem fixed. We’re going to work together on this.”

(Joe Rihn is a freelance writer and communications specialist based in Los Angeles. He has worked and volunteered with the Liberty Hill Foundation, Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment and Dublab.com.)

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