OAKLAND (KPIX) — Jobless claims in California continue to climb as the state slows the reopening of businesses. The Employment Development Department on Thursday reported 196,616 new claims for the week ending on June 27, bringing the total number to 7,081,284 jobless claims since the beginning of the pandemic.

The EDD reported it has paid out a record $37.5 billion to jobless Californians over the past three a half months but state lawmakers criticized the agency for not processing claims fast enough. Many unemployed people said they’ve waited weeks for their checks and their calls to the EDD hotline go unanswered.

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Like millions of the newly unemployed, Patricia Tierney had viewed the Employment Development Department as a safety net agency, a place that she could turn to for help. She said, so far, the EDD has provided nothing but frustration.

“I’m now desperate,” Tierney said. “Last night, I logged (online) to Cal Fresh and I’ve applied for general assistance because I have nothing left now.”

Tierney applied for unemployment benefits on May 15, the day she was laid off from her job as officer manager at a private school.

“At least, in seven weeks, get back to me and just give me some hope that at some point I’m going to get my unemployment,” Tierney remembered asking.

She said she has called the EDD hotline hundreds of times but got no response or update on her jobless claims. While she’s waiting for the EDD checks, she’s drained her savings while she cares for her disabled son and her 100-year-old mother. She worries she could soon lose her house in Sonoma.

“I’m not sleeping at night anymore,” Tierney said.

State assemblyman David Chiu, (D-San Francisco) held a news conference via Zoom on Thursday with people who are also struggling to get unemployment benefits.

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“I’ve been living on savings and, you know, that’s going to run out pretty soon,” said Taylor Whitehouse. Whitehouse lost her San Francisco bartending job and her other part-time job scouting film locations in March. She still hasn’t received her EDD check after applying in mid-March.

“I called just repeatedly for four hours trying to get through. I can never get through past the recording,” said Kathleen Maley, who talked about the difficulties of reaching an EDD representative.

“I’ve only received one payment in the last 15 weeks that I’ve been unemployed,” said Jenni Rowe, who was an event planner for a Bay Area hotel.

Assemblyman Chiu said the EDD needs to increase its staffing, train new employees and upgrade its aging technology to expedite payments.

“The EDD is truly failing our state. People are suffering tremendously. We have constituents who have gone without benefits from EDD since March,” Chiu said.

State senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco), who also joined the press conference, said the EDD has a workforce that can maybe handle a four percent unemployment rate, not the current 16.3 percent. The EDD is planning to hire 5,200 workers to speed up the claims and payments.

That can’t come soon enough for Tierney.

“I’m really scared about the job market and the EDD and then, you know, the pandemic. All of it has been very overwhelming,” she said.

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Michael Bernick, the former EDD director, advised people to be persistent and keep filling out the paperwork. He said it may take a while but the EDD will eventually pay and the payments are retroactive.