Eric Szaras, a 37-year old Santa Monica resident and registered Democrat, said he called EDD more than 270 times in the space of a week and a half after his account was frozen due to suspected fraud.
Cynthia Rene Brown, a 64-year-old Los Angeles resident and registered Republican, said she was so frantic that she hired consultants to help her reach EDD, ultimately paying them nearly $4,000 of the $16,000 in benefits she received.
“My opinion of Gavin Newsom has gotten worse since the pandemic and sunk even more with the EDD issues,” Brown said in an email — her cell phone service had been cut off while she awaited benefits. “He just pointed fingers and played the blame game.”
Silver doesn’t discuss politics on her YouTube channel. But the conclusion she’s drawn from spending 30 to 40 hours a week helping Californians is inherently a political one.
“Claimants should not need to come to a random person on the internet in order to obtain these answers.”
Had Ivy Bland been able to access more than $9,000 of locked unemployment benefits, she and her husband might have been able to put off their move to Florida.
Had Lindsay Green’s benefits not been frozen due to suspected fraud, she might have kept her medical, dental and car insurance — and not been forced to go on food stamps.
Had Susan Baker’s unemployment payments not suddenly stopped, she might have avoided dipping into her savings to make house payments.
On the other hand, had the state Employment Development Department’s system worked perfectly, Ginny Silver might still have only 37 subscribers to her YouTube channel.
Instead, she has more than 72,000.
The 36-year-old Elk Grove mother of two posts daily videos demystifying the inner workings of EDD by discussing work search requirements, pending payments and tricks for reaching the notoriously backlogged call centers. More than 1 million people watch her videos a month, enough for Silver — who went on unemployment at the beginning of the pandemic when her wedding photography business shut down — to not only get off unemployment herself but also hire an assistant.
She currently makes more money from her EDD videos than she does from her photography business, which resumed once California began to reopen.
People “shouldn’t have to go to a random person on the internet compiling these government documents,” Silver said. “But because the EDD’s communication, website and customer service departments are so inaccessible and confusing, unfortunately, they do come to my channel for that.”
“So while I am happy I have a channel, it should not have a need to exist.”
California’s unemployment department has consistently been one of Gov. Gavin Newsom’s biggest political liabilities during the COVID-19 pandemic. Hundreds of thousands of jobless residents’ claims have been backlogged for weeks at a time even as EDD paid out an estimated $31 billion in fraudulent claims, including $1 billion to prison and jail inmates. With account freezes, jammed phone lines and pervasive tech glitches blocking unemployed Californians from the funds they needed to stay afloat, many called their lawmakers for help, desperate and even on the brink of suicide.
After forming a strike team in July 2020 to overhaul EDD’s outdated technology, Newsom largely avoided commenting directly on the beleaguered department. But his administration has begun to do so, suggesting he’s aware EDD’s shortcomings could be top of mind for a potentially sizable number of voters in the Sept. 14 recall election.
On April 26, the same day Secretary of State Shirley Weber said enough signatures had been gathered to force a recall election, Newsom’s unemployment fraud task force announced it had arrested 68 people and opened another 1,641 cases.
On July 20, the day before Weber certified the final list of recall candidates, the Newsom administration said it had hired a former federal prosecutor to help crack down on unemployment fraud. On July 22, EDD announced it would start automatically paying benefits to certain jobless Californians to help reduce the mountain of unresolved claims.