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The California Department of Employment Development will reduce its call center hours on March 1. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli, File)

PA

The beleaguered unemployment agency call center, finding that people typically struggle to reach only on weekday mornings, is cutting its hours.

Instead of the current service, which operates from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. seven days a week, the center will operate from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday starting March 3.

The reason for the change is that since the end of federal benefit programs last year, “call center volume has dropped dramatically,” a Department of Employment Development statement said Friday.

The EDD found that people had to repeat the number two or three times to pass, usually during the busiest times of the week, which tend to be in the morning.

He found little traffic now at night and on weekends.

Overall service calls are down 95% from a year ago. Instead of the 27 million calls received last January, this month of January saw 1.3 million calls. Evening demand is down 47% since November.

EDD wants to take staff who work off-peak hours and use them to help resolve eligibility issues.

EDD’s call center woes

The call center has been the source of continuous consumer frustration for nearly two years. When the COVID-19 pandemic first exploded and triggered a sudden economic collapse, the call center was quickly overwhelmed.

It only operated from 8 a.m. to noon at the time, and the month after the pandemic, Governor Gavin Newsom extended the hours. Additional staff was provided, but the problems persisted.

State Auditor Elaine Howle found that at one point the call center was answering less than 1% of calls.

EDD quadrupled its call center staff available to more than 5,600 people, but Howle found that “these employees were often unable to help callers and only slightly improved the percentage of calls they answered” .

She said the issues should have been resolved years ago.

“Despite knowing for years that it had issues with call center performance, EDD has yet to adopt best practices for managing the call center, leaving it ill-prepared to effectively assist customers. Californians,” Howle said.

David Lightman is McClatchy’s chief congressional correspondent. He has been writing, editing, and teaching for nearly 50 years, with stops in Hagerstown, Riverside, California, Annapolis, Baltimore, and since 1981, Washington.