Since the pandemic, hundreds of thousands of San Diegans have relied on unemployment benefits from the state of California. Now, many people are worried a notice they received from the state Employment Development Department might be a scam.
The letter asks for "Retroactive Certification." EDD Spokeswoman Loree Levy said in April and parts of May the department was receiving so many requests for unemployment that it was automatically approving some, knowing the department would have to go back and make sure those benefits were correct.
"We're required to get something that says, 'Yes, I am certifying to you that I'm eligible and I remain unemployed and ready to receive this next payment,'" Levy said. "We wanted to move forward and get those payments made, and come back and clean it up later."
Levy says in the last four months the EDD has processed almost 7 million claims and paid nearly $40 billion in benefits.
It is routine that if you are receiving state unemployment benefits, you are required to tell the EDD you are still eligible every two weeks. But when the state was expediting the unemployment process, they skipped the verification step. Now, it is going back and requiring a retroactive certification. Below is a copy of the letter that was sent out.
Several viewers told NBC 7 Responds they were suspicious because the link took them to a website asking for very personal information, without a login. The EDD said in addition to the email above, it also sent out letters and more than 5 million text messages.
Levy says people are required to file this information, but if they aren't sure about the legitimacy of the email they should go right to the main EDD website.
"We want people to be assured that it is us connecting with you," Levy said. "All the information there should just match up with what you have in your own records."
Levy says many people misunderstand the purpose of the first two questions. The first asks if you were sick during the time you were receiving benefits. If you respond "yes" the EDD says you would not have qualified for unemployment benefits because you would not have been able to work due to your sickness.
The second question asks if you were available to work. This question simply is trying to see if you could have worked if you had a job. If you respond "no" to this question, you also would not qualify for unemployment benefits. In order to qualify for payments, you must be able to work.
What happens if the EDD finds out you did not qualify for the checks you received? Levy says the department will try to work with you.
"We'll go ahead and contact them," Levy said. "We'll say, 'Here's how to return the money. Here's how we can avoid any penalties on your behalf.'"
Levy says people have until October 5 to complete the certification and she knows this has been a tough time for millions of Californians. If you applied before May 9, you likely need to file retroactive certification.
"This has been a very convoluted, confusing time," Levy said. "It is EDD contacting you. We're simply completing a required step to make sure that we've got all the information we need."
Levy says the department has people working seven days a week, both day and night, and even on holidays. She recommends people try to complete the process online. While EDD is adding 4,000 employees, Levy says getting through on the phone is still very difficult.
"We often sympathize and empathize with the doctors and nurses on the medical front line of this crisis," Levy said. "We're on the economic front line of this crisis and it has been exhausting."