SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX 5) — Financial help is finally supposed to be available this week for millions of Californians who couldn’t apply for regular unemployment benefits. But we’re getting flooded with emails from viewers who say they can’t get through to apply.

Natalie is one of them: “I was kind of looking forward to some light at the end of the tunnel,” she said. Natalie, who preferred to use only her first name, logged onto the Employment Development Department’s website first thing on April 28th, the day the state launched the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program.

She’s in the fashion industry and got laid off last month. But she already had collected unemployment between jobs last year and exhausted her benefits.

The new federal program is supposed to give people like her another 13 weeks. But when she tried to apply it says she has reached her maximum benefits paid.

“There’s nowhere else that I can navigate to to apply for PUA because of that automatic disqualification,” said Natalie. “It’s really frustrating because it’s a glitch and it just hasn’t been addressed.”

ALSO READ:

California EDD Struggles To Keep Up With Staggering Surge In Unemployment Claims

‘It’s Very Difficult’; Coronavirus Pandemic Strains California EDD With Nearly 1 Million Unemployment Claims

Sandra Zhang has also been running into brick walls. “It’s been madness. I try to contact them about 30 times a day,” said Zhang.

She’s an optometrist and was laid off in March. At first she was able to collect unemployment benefits. But when she came back to work part-time, EDD cut off her benefits. “I think it’s pretty unfair. We still want to provide the care. We still have the demand from patients that want to come in and have surgery, so we try to be here for them. But I’m making less than I would be even receiving just pure unemployment benefits, not working at all,” said Zhang.

ALSO READ: Gov. Newsom Announces Record Unemployment Numbers, Promises Progress Toward Reopening

EDD processed half a million claims in the week ending April 18th. We reached out to the agency to answer our viewers questions but got no reply.

For now, Natalie’s spending her time making face masks for nursing homes, hoping like so many others that one day her benefits will come through.

The EDD says there will be some delays for people trying to get that 13-week extension. The agency just posted some information about that on their website at https://edd.ca.gov/About_EDD/pdf/news-20-15.pdf.

Elizabeth Cook