SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — California’s demand for unemployment benefits is reaching historic levels. The state Employment Development Department says claims are up 370 percent.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before, the numbers are astronomical. And the pain people are feeling is just beyond comprehension,” said Ruth Silver Taube, an employment attorney who staffs a helpline for people going through a job crisis.

Benjamin Gonzales lost his job as a swimming instructor when his job site was shut down because of the COVID-19 crisis and is struggling.

“Everything that I’m paying off, like my rent, is coming from my savings,” Gonzales said.

Gonzales filed with the state for unemployment insurance but he hasn’t received any benefits yet and is now looking for a job and a lifeline.

“The job market right now is a little rough,” Gonzales said.

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All employment offices are closed during the crisis, so people are advised to call or apply for unemployment online.

The state EDD says it fielded nearly 900,000 claims last week alone.

“People are desperate and often in tears because they need money and they don’t have any money and they’ve never had to navigate the system before,” Silver Taube said.

To state’s website at has been overloaded.

“Some of them have trouble applying online, so we talk them through it. Others aren’t able to go online so they have to call. And they have to call several times to get through. The other option
is for them to download an application and to mail it in. But people are hurting,” Silver Taube said.

Gonzales says he is hopeful but still in desperate need of some dollars to help him through this painful period.

“Hopefully, I can get a stimulus check sometime soon, but I’m not really sure when,” he said.