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September 21, 2020 – Planning on applying for unemployment benefits? Well, you won’t be able to do so for the next two weeks.

California’s beleaguered unemployment department is putting a pause on new claims until Oct. 5 to give it time to implement an automatic identity-verification tool to speed up processing times. The move follows recommendations outlined in a report released late Saturday night from the “strike team” Gov. Gavin Newsom formed in July to find solutions to the department’s myriad problems. The report was due Sept. 14 and released five days late.

Also delayed: eliminating the Employment Development Department’s massive backlog of claims. Newsom said in July the department aimed to clear nearly 1 million unresolved claims by the end of September. But the strike team’s report found that nearly 1.6 million claims remain pending, and the backlog likely won’t be fully cleared until Jan. 27, 2021 — even as it continues to grow by at least 10,000 claims per day.

  • Assemblymember David Chiu, a San Francisco Democrat“The report documents how EDD has failed the people it serves in almost every imaginable way. The size and scope of the backlog are shockingly large.”
  • Jennifer Pahlka, co-chair of the strike team: “With this roadmap, EDD is already on their way to meeting claimants’ needs faster, and I’m confident that over time the department will continue to improve the experience people have filing for unemployment insurance.”

Long-term, the strike team recommended completely overhauling the department — something lawmakers demanded of Newsom in a scathing August letter. The team also recommended ending an ongoing project to modernize EDD’s tech systems, pointing out that three years in, “a contractor has not been selected, and software code has not been written.” At this point, the team wrote, it makes more sense to start a new project from scratch, one “reimagine(d) for the future.”

Scrutiny on the department is far from over. By the end of this month, the state auditor will begin an emergency audit of EDD. But that may not provide much solace to Californians waiting on delayed payments, especially given the recent expiration of $300 weekly extra federal benefits.

The coronavirus bottom line: As of 9 p.m. Sunday night, California had 778,400 confirmed coronavirus cases and 14,987 deaths from the virus, according to a CalMatters tracker.

Also: CalMatters regularly updates this pandemic timeline tracking the state’s daily actions. And we’re tracking the state’s coronavirus hospitalizations by count.

Emily Hoeven write the daily WhatMatters newsletter for CalMatters.

CalMatters is a nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism venture committed to explaining how California’s state Capitol works and why it matters. www.CalMatters.org