App Maker Offers Free Help With Unemployment Filing

As millions of Californians face long hold times and website delays applying for unemployment benefits, an app developer says it can help speed up the process.

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As the state unemployment office faces a record-shattering surge in demand, thousands of out-of-work Californians are experiencing delays applying for jobless benefits.

Dozens have reached out to NBC Bay Area, to share their frustrations.

"I applied for unemployment insurance after our office closed," writes Nancy P. in Richmond. "The EDD site kept crashing... I’ve tried to call over 150 times. When you get to the part about a representative, it hangs up."

To be fair, the California Employment Development Department, or EDD, has seen a surge in demand unlike anything ever seen before. In just a matter of weeks, more than 3 million Californians have found themselves without a job, and in need of unemployment insurance benefits -- also known as UI. In response, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Wednesday ordered EDD call centers to stay open from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. seven days a week, and redirected 1,340 state employees to join the EDD team.

“We are in the process now of dealing with an unprecedented number of people making phone calls into our EDD,” Gov. Newsom said.

A San Francisco app developer says it wants to help, too. DoNotPay says it is detouring people around the state's unemployment website -- to help them apply for UI.

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DoNotPay says it specializes in cutting government red tape. Usually, it helps users fight parking tickets, or handle a small claims court case. CEO Josh Browder tells NBC Bay Area his team is taking aim at the unemployment application process, by engineering its app with a free bypass.

"What it does is it will ask you questions in California and use the answers to those questions to populate 30 pages of paper forms," Browder said. "I stress paper forms. It doesn’t actually use the online system. It fills in all this paperwork and then mails it off on your behalf."

We asked Browder if that process really is faster than the EDD website.

"Definitely," Browder said. "We’ve seen from our testing and from reports on social media that filling in the paper forms is a lot quicker. I guess it’s the same as paper voting. Sometimes it’s more secure and efficient."

For its part, EDD told NBC Bay Area it does not believe using third-party apps like DoNotPay to apply for unemployment is necessarily faster -- or safer.

"The EDD is not affiliated in any way with this or any other third-party vendors," the agency told us via email. "We encourage everyone impacted by COVID-19 to seek assistance directly on the EDD website with the various online resources we have for the fastest processing possible. We are also amplifying our call center to seven days a week, which the Governor announced today, along with other worker protections, so we can better serve all Californians during this difficult time."

Some DoNotPay users may have privacy concerns, as the unemployment application requires a goldmine of personal data, including Social Security number, date of birth, address, and driver's license number. Browder told us DoNotPay does not store or sell any of that data.

As for why the service is being offered for free, Browder said he wants to help people in need -- but he concedes he hopes users will see what else the app can do, and perhaps return as paying customers.

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