No help? Dozens hit brick walls on path to California unemployment assistance

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- Millions of people in California have lost their jobs in the 11 weeks since the coronavirus pandemic prompted "stay at home" orders, but a lot of them still haven't gotten access to the money designed to help them.

The school year came to an abrupt end for Central Unified substitute teacher Andrea Iness.

"Let's put it to you this way: I didn't think the last time I elbow bumped my kids on Friday the 13th would be the last time I would see a whole bunch of my colleagues and friends and students," she said.

Teachers stayed on the payroll, but not subs, so Iness started applying for unemployment coverage two months ago - online and over the phone.

She's gotten nowhere, even though she's worked hard at getting it right.

The state Employment Development Department website acknowledges receiving her request, but every time she checks back, it asks if she wants to reopen her claim and starts everything all over again

"It's a new job," she said. "That's for sure."

Cathrine Jameson has faced similar struggles. She and her husband are Uber drivers who decided it wouldn't be safe for a while because of their newborn baby.

They filed for unemployment April 12, and again on May 8. She got the pandemic unemployment assistance. Her husband hit a brick wall.

"He has been sitting with nothing," Jameson said. "No calls. No correspondence whatsoever. I've called well over 500 times."

She and her husband have her partial unemployment income and help from her mother, so they're making ends meet barely.

But sharing her struggle on social media, Jameson has seen dozens of people a lot worse off.

"What bothers me is all those families who don't have that, whose cabinets are bare," she said.

A spokesperson for the EDD told us the majority of workers are able to get their claims processed online. They've processed almost 5.5 million claims so far from people impacted by the pandemic.

But they know some claims are getting stuck in the system - whether because of a glitch or because some of the information got entered wrong. So they refer people to their toll-free phone lines.

A lot of the newly unemployed have battled those phone lines for days and lost.

"You call hundreds of times a day," Iness said. "If you're lucky, you even get in. And if you're lucky to get in to enter your social security number. And then it'll say, soon as you're done, 'Sorry. Due to the volume of calls. We care about you. We know.'"

State legislators may be the best bet for help.

Assembly members Jim Patterson and Joaquin Arambula are now helping Iness and Jameson, hoping to catch up on thousands of dollars in lost assistance.
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