May 22 2013 10:06 AM

Can't get unemployment benefits; can't get anyone on the line


In March, John Palomino was laid off from his job as a nurse at San Diego Hospice, after the troubled organization was forced to file for bankruptcy. Like most folks who've lost a job, Palomino applied for unemployment and set out to look for new work.

Shortly after, Palomino got a letter saying his application was denied. The letter directed him to call the state Employment Development Department's (EDD) unemployment-benefits hotline because he'd filled out something incorrectly. The letter, he says, was only about three lines long.

"It seemed like something just spit out by a computer," Palomino says.

So he called. And called. And called. No matter when he called, he couldn't reach a single person through the hotline. Via a Facebook group started by former hospice employees, he learned that he wasn't the only one having problems with EDD.

A November 2012 report by the state auditor—a follow-up to a previous audit in March 2011—noted that, among other issues, EDD's phone system wasn't capable of handling the volume of calls the department received. Between July 2011 and June 2012, the report says, 17 million calls—24 percent of all calls—didn't go through. And, of the calls that did go through, when individuals requested to speak with an EDD worker, roughly 25 million of 29.7 million calls weren't connected, nearly twice as many as the prior year.

EDD spokesperson Patti Roberts says the state tries to call applicants to resolve incomplete applications, and follow-up letters like the one Palomino received give as much information as possible.

On May 20, EDD reduced its call hours from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to 8 a.m. to noon, due in part to a $30-million budget cut from federal sequestration.

To help address the reduced hours, EDD is asking people to email questions or find information on its website and through social media.

When the hospice's financial troubles came to light, Palomino and his wife decided to refinance their home, just in case. The move allowed them to defer mortgage payments for two months. And, Palomino landed a job in mid-April with another hospice, VITAS.

But, he's continued calling the state to try to get the money he says is owed to him for that month he was out of work.

"You're quick to take my money," Palomino says, referring to paycheck deductions for unemployment insurance, "but why are you giving me a hard time to give it back?"

Write to or follow him on Twitter at: @cityscrub


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