Tricia B. said she was getting desperate.
The Livermore, California, woman said her unemployment benefits application got hung up in the California Employment Development Department's system.
"I quit counting how many times I called after it was over 500 times," Tricia said. "I made it through to one gentleman that said there was a problem with my ID and that I needed to speak to someone in that department. I have yet to get through to that phone number after trying now for several weeks."
Another Californian, Christopher Hein, shared a similar story in May.
"I called them every day," Hein said. "Some days, I even called over 300 times."
NBC Responds teams hear from viewers like Tricia and Chris every day. Hundreds have reached out since March, saying they never received benefits -- even months after applying -- and that they were never able to reach anyone with the state to make things right.
It happened to Andre Woodley Jr., too. The San Francisco software developer needed help with his application for relief after the pandemic took a toll on his business.
"I kept trying to call, kept trying to call," Woodley said. "I looked up some YouTube videos, and YouTube was like, 'You're not going to get through, and it's really hard."
Instead of giving up, Woodley was inspired to take matters into his own hands.
“I was like, you know what? There has to be an easier way to get through this thing using technology,” Woodley said.
Building a Busy Bot
Tapping his experience making apps, Woodley created a "bot" -- an automated computer program designed to handle tedious tasks -- to call EDD for him. He said the process didn't take long.
“I went ahead and just spinned up a bot," Woodley said, "I built it in, like, 30 minutes, launched it and was able to connect within five minutes."
Woodley realized he was on to something bigger when he shared the results with friends and followers on social media. So he founded a business, Auto Dial, to market what he calls the EDD Call Bot. For $30, you can use the bot too.
After callers sign up, they go back to whatever they're doing. Then, Auto Dial will call you when a live EDD worker is on the line and will connect you. Auto Dial's website claims it is guaranteed to work or you'll get your money back.
Testimonials on the Auto Dial website say customers wait as little as two minutes. NBC was unable to immediately reach those customers to verify their claims did try the service out, using accounts provided by Woodley.
Making repeated phone calls manually, we were unable to connect with an operator. Using Auto Dial, we got to a "hold area" in about six minutes and spoke to a live operator about 45 minutes later.
Woodley said now there are around 400 people a day who want to use the service.
How the EDD Call Bot Works
Woodley declined to share specific details about how his bot finds and connects users to a human operator but he did lay out the basics.
Woodley said he determined the EDD phone line plays two distinct recordings when someone calls. One plays if all lines are busy, and the system isn't going to take your call. A different recording plays, however, if a caller is going to get through.
"The bot handles the process of constantly calling the EDD," Woodley said. "Essentially, it constantly dials the phone number. It listens to the voice message, and if it’s the 'wrong' message, it will hang up and do it again and do it again.”
The bot calls repeatedly -- as many as thousands of times -- until it hears the right message. When it does, it calls your phone and adds you to the line.
"Once it gets an opening, we call via three-way, and then from there, we connect you to the call, and from there, you’re now connected to the ‘music section’ of the EDD, and you’re on hold there for about 5 to 10 minutes, to speak to a rep," Woodley said.
Woodley told NBC 7 Responds that he's working to create a queue system that the EDD and other businesses can use. While similar systems may exist, he hopes his will be easier.
Is It Legal?
Since the Auto Dial bot could be burning up the Employment Development Department's phone lines, we asked EDD to comment. The agency said it would get back to us, but it had not as of late Friday.
We asked Woodley if his bot is making the EDD phone situation worse. He said it isn't, because the bot is only tying up the "busy" recording that gets you nowhere.
Sometimes, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission frowns on companies using auto-dialers to make calls. We asked the FCC for its take but are waiting for a reply on that as well.
Woodley told us his bot is legitimate because it represents a real-life caller who really wants to talk with the EDD.
"Each person has a designated number that represents them, so it’s not like we’re representing some fake person," Woodley said. "When we do call the EDD, they’re connected directly with that person."
He added: "It’s the same as an agent or someone calling on your behalf, like a family member saying, ‘Hey, I’m going to call [for] you’ -- it’s the same as that."
The difference: The bot is dialing faster than any human ever could.
People in other states are also interested in using the bot, so Woodley is quickly working to try to expand the services offered through Auto Dial.
If you don't want to pay Auto Dial $30 for help reaching EDD, Woodley did offer this free bit of advice: The best times to call EDD are around 8 a.m. and 11 a.m. He said his data showed that calls are most likely to go through around those times.