Californians in need of unemployment benefits are finding them hard to get. The state office in charge of managing those benefits has been overwhelmed as millions of people reach out for assistance.
Some people are having a hard time getting answers, so a group of volunteers has appeared on Facebook to answer common questions for many people who are frustrated at the process.
"It's difficult to spend hours on the line," founder Erica Chan told our colleagues at NBC Bay Area Responds. "When you have a system that works and then all of sudden you have millions of people demanding [answers] I think that clogs up the system."
Chan is a Los Angeles-area filmmaker who helped launch the "Unofficial CA Unemployment help" Facebook group. She found that her own experience filing for unemployment benefits gave her valuable knowledge on what people need to do and what the most common problems are.
"The number one thing is identity verification," said Chan. "People are waiting six weeks for their identity to be verified and they're just sitting on nothing.
In the last two months, the California Employment Development Department says it has received more than 4.7 million claims for unemployment benefits. The EDD compared that to the height of the 2008 recession, when it received 700,000 claims over two months.
The department says it has been overwhelmed with the sheer number of callers, which is why more than 36,000 people have joined the Facebook group since it began in March.
"I just started answering a bunch of people's basic questions," said group moderator Ruddy Salazar. "Like 'Am I eligible,' 'What should I do to apply,' and it just started to grow from there."
Chan has help running the page from moderators like Salazar who have also had experience filing for unemployment. He says it's important to not give up on the application process.
"The biggest thing is being persistent even though it's frustrating," said Salazar. "Don't let yourself fall through the cracks. A lot of times if you're not following up, you're not going to get that help you need."
The EDD says it has paid out more than $12 billion in unemployment benefits and is still receiving hundreds of thousands of claims each week. Chan says even before the pandemic slowed down the system, it still took weeks to be approved.
"I think they're doing the best they can, but people are hurting," said Chan. "You're not alone. There are a lot of other people who are in the same boat."
You can find tips from people like Chan and Salazar on the group's Facebook page.