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New EDD Requirement May Clog Unemployment Claims Process Even Further, Advocates Worry

Unemployed Californians will soon need to show that they’re actively looking for work to stay eligible for benefits, the state’s Employment Development Department announced late last week.

The EDD had suspended the work search requirement in March 2020 because of the unprecedented challenges of the COVID pandemic. But starting July 11, most Californians who want to maintain their eligibility for unemployment benefits should be actively looking for work, the EDD said.

To keep getting benefits, applicants will need to answer “Yes” on the bi-weekly certification question asking if they are looking for work. As one Twitter user succinctly put it, “Just put ‘yes’ for number three and that’s it.”

What qualifies as “searching for work” will vary for those on regular unemployment or extensions versus those on Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, because the latter group are often self-employed and contract workers. EDD said it will be sending notices to inform applicants about what this reinstatement means for them. A brief rundown can also be found on EDD’s website.

Daniela Urban, executive director of the Center for Workers’ Rights, said it’s essential for EDD to be thorough in its communications about this update.

“The workforce requirement, though it was expected that it would start again, can pose a barrier for claimants if they are not aware of the change,” she said.

“Many claimants have been certifying in the same way for … more than a year. And so it needs to be communicated clearly what this change means for claimants and how they should be marking their certification forms to make sure that they’re still eligible to receive benefits on a weekly basis.”

The backlog of unemployment claims at EDD has hovered around 1 million since at least mid-February. And Urban says she thinks the figures, even at these heights, are still underestimating the number of people waiting for benefits. That’s because they don’t account for applicants who haven’t been able to get through to EDD in the first place.

The latest EDD figures put the number of claims waiting for EDD to determine an applicant’s eligibility at over 220,000. There are also over 900,000 claims in limbo because applicants themselves still need to certify eligibility directly.

Urban is concerned about the impact this additional change will have when EDD’s system is already in gridlock.

“The more barriers EDD places on claimants accessing benefits, the more difficult it will be for eligible claimants to continue to receive benefits until they find new work,” she said.

“EDD is already backlogged in their review of certification forms that need a manual review, and so the more information that claimants are required to report, and therefore EDD must review, is only going to slow down the process.”

Mary Franklin Harvin

Copyright 2021 KQED