The coronavirus has destroyed businesses in San Diego County and forced thousands to seek unemployment benefits through California’s Employment Development Department.
Ben Brenner reached out to NBC 7 after he repeatedly failed to get any help from EDD since he applied for and qualified for benefits nine weeks ago. The frustrated University Heights man lost his job at Kairoa Brewing when the coronavirus shut down his full-time bartending position. His hours were also slashed at his back-up job as a cook at Red House Pizza.
“San Diego is not the cheapest town to live in and I’m fortunate because I had some savings,” Brenner said while standing in front of his apartment. “It’s incredibly frustrating.”
Brenner said he completed his EDD application in mid-March but has not received a single cent from the state.
“You feel like no one’s listening. You feel like you’re lost and you’re falling through the cracks,” said Brenner. “I know that there’s a lot of people going through this and a lot of people who have their backs against the wall and we need help.”
Brenner said he should have received $450 a week through EDD.
“It’s incredibly difficult and frustrating because when you take financial insecurity and put it on top of this really stressful time, it just leads to a lot of anxiety,” he said. “I’ve called hundreds of times. I’ve called EDD hundreds of times. I’ve emailed them. Just the other day, I called them almost 200 times by 8 AM. At this point, I’ve kind of given up on the phones.”
“You never actually get a human being on the other line,” he continued. “You just get a couple of different answering machines that hang up on you and tell you to call back later because the system is overwhelmed.”
A news release from State Assemblyman Todd Gloria’s office said more than five million Californians filed for unemployment because of the global pandemic. He expressed frustration with the EDD in a statement attached to that release: “I impressed on EDD that they must do better for Californians. We are two months into this pandemic and hundreds of my constituents have yet to receive unemployment benefits. It’s unacceptable.”
“But they can’t even get any answers out of EDD,” exclaimed Brenner. “We need our politicians to actually pay attention to this and prioritize it.”
“I don’t know what it’s going to look like in 15 weeks, 16 weeks if I don’t have my benefits,” he sighed. “What if I never get my benefits? All those bills are still going to be stacked.”
NBC 7 contacted the EDD’s Media Relations office Friday morning and included several questions regarding Brenner’s complaints. An emailed response from the EDD Friday afternoon said they were working on a response to NBC 7’s questions.