So… I wanted to speak about the topic I have noticed no one is bringing up, and that is unemployment. As you all may know, those of us and particularly those from my industry, the restaurant industry, have been mostly hit by COVID 19 in an unprecedented way, which is reflected in the extraordinary number of now unemployed skilled and dedicated Restaurant and Hospitality professionals.
The fact that we are now seeing the gradual re-opening and return of restaurants and other hospitality venues, is both reassuring and welcomed like a breath of fresh air (facial masks removed). However, the return is gradual, the new regulations set in place for how a restaurant is to operate during COVID 19 times, are harsh, difficult and call for an average of 40-50% reduction in capacity. In an industry with already slim profit margins, this is simply unsustainable and therefore, some restaurateurs are proceeding with caution, deciding to either open in a smaller capacity and therefore smaller number of staff will be required, wait it out and see what is happening on the ground, or close shop all together.
I am also part of this wonderful, talented and resilient industry, who is now unemployed due to COVID 19, and as a result, the COVID 19 jobless community, is relying on government assistance which was passed by congress in all it’s might and glory, back in March 2020, promising $600 per individual who had lost his/her source of income due to COVID 19. This amount is to be added to what is the current unemployment benefit amount one is cleared to receive by the state, according to the state in which you reside and pay your taxes too. The reason being not just of pure empathy, but to make sure our economy doesn’t collapse, putting money in the hands of its citizens to keep the economic train moving.
So far so good. These are unprecedented times which call for unprecedented measures by the greatest country on earth, with the biggest economy on the planet, which we have all contributed too, paying our taxes. Next step is to file your claim for benefits with your local or state unemployment department, better known as the ‘Employment Development Department’ or ‘EDD’ in short. This for most of us, is where the train ride comes to either a bumpy unexplained ride or to a full stop all together (no explanation given). Let me share with you my particular case.
I filed for Unemployment benefits as instructed and as soon as I was laid-off due to COVID 19. I went on to certify the first two weeks of my new status as unemployed, received forms from the EDD to further ascertain my claim, which I promptly filled again and sent back as instructed. So far, the train ride has been pleasant, train arrived on time, seemed to be in order and left according to set schedule. Then, two weeks in, a strange alert appeared on the EDD site, informing that due to the unprecedented number of claims, there will be no need to certify your weekly benefits up to May 9th, 2020, EDD will take care of it for us. Great! Thank you EDD, we know you are doing your best to deal with the high number of claims, and we trust the government. Governor Newsom, (I am a California resident), issued on March 12 an executive order to make sure the EDD was up to speed with the wave of claims anticipated, instructed to pretty much do what is needed to meet the upraising ‘tsunami’ of claims. To the ordinary person this means, government is aware and is on it!... We got you!
But apparently this was far from reality. Reality is that almost three months in and it is still a mess, a mess that local governments cannot seem to be able to deal with or adapt too. The average person in California has to wait an average period of 6-8 weeks before his/her claims are approved, then paid, and only then you need to wait another 2-3 weeks for a bank card to arrive at your door. This means it take an average of 8-10 weeks for a person, which is by now desperate, immerse in debt, savings all but gone, before they are allowed to breath again. That ladies and gentlemen is the real picture, the reality that so many of us are experiencing daily, with no end in sight.
Yes I know what you are thinking… why don’t you contact the EDD? It’s so obvious that this is what one should do. The state of California EDD, gladly and proudly informing concerned California residents that in their efforts to assist the public, they have introduced a direct contact for specific questions forwarded to their agents, which according to their website, will be answered within 5-7days. If that doesn’t work for you, no problems, here’s a new number we are now making available as well as extending the hours for you to contact an agent. Sound great! Thank you California, you are truly and exemplary state.
Went ahead and emailed the department on May 5th and 11th, no answer to this day. All efforts to call the department using the numbers given, are a dead end, with a voice recording that actually informs you, the Department is unable to answer your call due to a high volume of calls, and the call will automatically hang up at the end of the recording. Then I started digging on the web, and found so many horrible stories, so many desperate people experiencing the same apathy from those local government bodies, whose sole reason for existence is to care for it’s citizens in time of need. By accident I found a young gentleman on Youtube who showed me a way in. Apparently there is a trick he found where you have to sit by the phone, call a specific given number, press a couple of numbers bypassing the voice recording, and repeat this for more than 100 times, or for at least 10 minutes or longer, until finally…finally you are placed in contact with an agent.
You are thinking… great! … he finally managed to get a hold of an agent. Yes! I did, but it depends who you are able to get at the other side of the line. Most of the time it’s tech people who are not able to assist you as they have no access to your file and are not qualified to do so. Really? I thought, Governor Newsom passed an executive order three months ago to up the number of qualified personal in the department, how much training does an EDD agent needs I wonder?... well, apparently more time that we originally thought, I’m guessing. Then On my 4th attempt and which took nearly 500 call attempts later and more than an hour on the phone just calling the given number again… and again… and again, I managed to speak with an authorized agent who was able to inform me that there was a discrepancy involving my social security number. Alarmed, we went ahead and corrected it, now I am waiting for another department in the EDD to verify this information with my employer. All my efforts thus far, to speak with someone at that department are left unanswered, and even the hard working EDD agents I do speak with, are not able to assist me there, as now, apparently they changed the system, where they do not have access to that info in that department.
Now, let’s look at this for a second, I filed for unemployment due to COVID 19, I began to certify my weeks, I even got forms via mail further reassuring me that all was going well. Yet, I received no answer to my concerned emails, even though I was reassured by the EDD, they will get back to me within 5-7 business days. All call attempts were met by... ’we are too overwhelmed for you right now… we are going to hang up’. No call, email or letter was sent out to me informing me there was a discrepancy in the information the EDD had on their end. If I had not found, by chance, the Youtuber who shared with the public the opening he had discovered, how to reach an Agent in the EDD, I would be probably still spinning, knocking on closed doors.
I went ahead and reached out to my local representative hoping her office will be able to assist me. I am still speaking with them and hope for a resolution to this long, frustrated and painful wait.
Now, I ask you… Is this how things should operate in our United States of America?... what happened to us?... what happened to our brilliance, to our innovation?... I live in California, the leading Hi-Tech capital of the world, yet our government technological infrastructure is not of this century but of the previous one. According to world GDP country ranking, California, if it was an independent country, would be the 5th largest economy in the world. So… let me ask you… Is this a government and government institutions, that reflect that in your opinion?... it certainly doesn’t seem that way to me, and I can only but imagine how horrible it must be for so many others in different states all across this country.
Please speak up! Please contact your representatives. This is not right. This is not how things should be or run! Fight and ask for things to change!