A group of dedicated volunteers has stepped up to help tens of thousands of Californians having trouble getting unemployment benefits.
The "Unofficial CA unemployment help" Facebook group aims to share knowledge and help answer common questions for workers who have become frustrated trying to apply for unemployment insurance benefits.
Erica Chan, a Los Angeles-area filmmaker, helped launch the Facebook group after realizing her own experiences with the unemployment process led to valuable advice for her friends and family.
"I figured, just like me, I’m struggling with money, they must be, too," Chan said. "So, I figured I could share this resource with them, and I think after that it was just word of mouth."
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That word-of-mouth spread quickly, and Unofficial CA Unemployment Help now has more than 30,000 members. Among them is group moderator Ruddy Salazar, whose own frustrations with the unemployment benefits process help him relate to others.
"It took 300 calls just to get through to someone on the other end of the line," Salazar said, referring to his experience trying to reach the California Employment Development Department (EDD).
Chan says some of the most common problems shared in the Facebook group involve identity verification, extensions, and penalty weeks.
"People are waiting six-weeks-plus for their identity to be verified," Chan said. "So, they’re just sitting on nothing, and waiting for EDD to confirm that’s who they are. That’s the biggest one."
Chan and Salazar say there's no real magic wand, because many problems do require someone from EDD to intervene. Salazar suggests workers keep calling, and their patience will pay off.
"I think the biggest thing is just being persistent, even though it is frustrating, even though it is sometimes hard to get through," Salazar said. “Don’t give up. Even if you don’t immediately get your funds, the most important thing is getting your application approved, because even if it’s a few weeks or a few months, you’re still going to get retroactively paid."
While they share tips and offer encouragement to group members, Chan says she understands how frustrated and frightened many unemployed workers feel.
"A lot of people are frustrated with the process, because it takes so long, especially at a time when we need money to survive and buy groceries," Chan said. "It’s difficult to be waiting hours on the line."
You can learn more about the group on its Facebook page.