NOVATO (KPIX  5) – Linda Heger of Novato knows the frustration well. Heger – who was laid off from her managerial job in October—says she’s been trying to reach the Employment Development Department (EDD) for months to find out why her unemployment claims aren’t being paid.

But she says it’s all but impossible to reach a human being.

“I’ve tried first thing in the morning. I’ve tried at the last moment,” she told ConsumerWatch.

Others stopping by San Francisco’s EDD office on Turk Street Tuesday told the same story.

“It’s taken me three and a half weeks to actually get a live person on the phone,” said customer Sherrie Drake.

The EDD blames federal budget cuts – the agency is largely funded with federal money. It also says the number of individuals seeking unemployment benefits in California has been rising just as the agency is losing funding. It’s estimated more than 500,000 Californians are currently getting or seeking unemployment benefits.

Former EDD director Michael Bernick says the agency is trying to do more with less, but isn’t succeeding. “The system is just overwhelmed,” he said. Bernick says EDD is well aware of the problems with its phone lines. “This is priority one, two, three, four and five at the EDD right now.”

EDD advises customers to use the agency’s website and to listen to the recorded messages on its phone lines to get the information they need. Bernick says visiting an EDD office is probably a waste of time.

“Going to an EDD office is virtually worthless,” Bernick told ConsumerWatch. “You’ll be directed back to the phone system or internet.”

The EDD is hoping to get some relief in California’s next budget. Governor Brown has allocated $42 million for the EDD in his proposed 2013-2014 budget. But, legislative approval is still months away. EDD says if it does get the funding, it will use the money to implement better technology that will enable customers to get call backs.

ConsumerWatch contacted the EDD on Linda Heger’s behalf. The agency arranged for a manager to call Heger the next day. Her issue now appears to be resolved.

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