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EDD expands call center as number of unemployed balloons
Unemployment in Turlock and across the county has skyrocketed as large employers, such as Kohl’s, have shut their doors to customers (KRISTINA HACKER/The Journal).

The California Employment Development department released unemployment numbers for March on Friday, but rather than giving an idea of where the region labor force is headed, the numbers are a snapshot of the days just before the COVID-19 pandemic led to a statewide stay at home order and skyrocketing unemployment.

The unrevised March unemployment rate for Stanislaus County came in at 8.3 percent, up from the 6.6 percent posted in February and above the year-ago estimate of 7 percent. However, the dates reviewed by the EDD was during the week of March 12, prior to the stay at home order that shuttered many non-essential businesses.

"At this time, we cannot quantify the effects of the pandemic on the job market in March," said EDD Labor Market Consultant Juliet Moeur. "However, it is likely that the unseasonable changes in the industry employment and labor force data can be ascribed to the effects of the illness and efforts to contain the virus. It is important to keep in mind that the March survey reference period, the week that contains the 12th day of the month, for both surveys predated many coronavirus-related business and school closures in the second half of the month."

The early March data already showed some drops in the number of employed individuals in Stanislaus County, with sectors like retail, hospitality, business services and manufacturing posting job losses for the month or the year-over rate. However, the true rate of job losses in Stanislaus County will be reflected when the April data comes out in May.

In reality, the unemployment in California has ballooned over the last few weeks. EDD has processed 660,966 unemployment claims in the last week and 2.7 million over the last four weeks. That’s at least 2.3 million more than the highest one-month total since January 2010, when 375,735 unemployment insurance claims were processed.

Over the four-week period between March 15 and April 11, the EDD has paid out over $975 million in unemployment benefits to Californians in need. On April 12, the EDD also began automatically adding an extra $600 in federal funds to each week of regular benefits a worker is eligible to receive. This is one of the first unemployment insurance provisions of the federal CARES Act.

“These are historic times at the EDD, dramatically impacting our families, friends, neighbors and communities,” said EDD Director Sharon Hilliard. “Employees are rallying from throughout other EDD programs and state government to help us process this record claim load and get money into the hands of those in need just as quickly as possible. For most Californians, that continues to be about three weeks after applying for benefits.”

Beginning on Monday, EDD will launch a secondary call center line, so that Californians are able to call-in between the hours of 8 a.m. and 8 p.m., seven days a week. A total of 1,340 state employees have been redirected to increase staffing at the call center, and assist Californians with their unemployment insurance claims as hours of operation are increased. Additional staff will be added in the short-term.

As part of the federal CARES Act, the new Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program will help unemployed Californians who are business owners, self-employed, independent contractors, have limited work history and others not usually eligible for regular state unemployment insurance benefits who are out of business or services are significantly reduced as a direct result of the pandemic.

The PUA will provide up to 39 weeks of benefits starting with weeks of unemployment beginning Feb. 2, 2020, through the week ending Dec. 26, 2020, depending on when an individual became directly impacted by the pandemic. Those individuals getting the PUA may also qualify for the additional $600 benefit as part of the separate CARES Act Pandemic Additional Compensation program. Only the weeks of a claim between March 29 and July 25 are eligible for the extra $600 payments. The PUA program will operate through the EDD and is slated to start April 28.

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced on Wednesday that $125 million in disaster relief assistance will be made available to undocumented immigrants impacted by COVID-19. California will provide $75 million in disaster relief assistance and philanthropic partners have committed to raising an additional $50 million.

“California is the most diverse state in the nation," Gov. Newsom said. "Our diversity makes us stronger and more resilient. Every Californian, including our undocumented neighbors and friends, should know that California is here to support them during this crisis. We are all in this together."

California’s $75 million Disaster Relief Fund will support undocumented Californians impacted by COVID-19 who are ineligible for unemployment insurance benefits and disaster relief, including the CARES Act, due to their immigration status. Approximately 150,000 undocumented adult Californians will receive a one-time cash benefit of $500 per adult with a cap of $1,000 per household to deal with the specific needs arising from the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals can apply for support beginning next month.

In addition to the $75 million in state funding, Grantmakers Concerned with Immigrants and Refugees (GCIR), a network of foundations focused on immigration issues, has committed to raising $50 million to support direct financial assistance to families of undocumented immigrants through the California Immigrant Resilience Fund, with initial lead investments of $5.5 million from Emerson Collective, Blue Shield of California Foundation, The California Endowment, The James Irvine Foundation, Chan Zuckerberg Initiative and an anonymous donor, among others.

“During this moment of national crisis, undocumented immigrants are risking their own health on behalf of the rest of us, saving lives as health care workers; caring for our loved ones; and growing much of the food we depend on,” said Laurene Powell Jobs, Founder and President of Emerson Collective. “With the federal government and so many states failing to provide undocumented immigrants the economic and health supports all Americans deserve, I hope that corporations, foundations and individuals across the country will join us in providing the emergency relief these members of our community need to weather this challenging time.”