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Aiming for a California Comeback: Tavis Smiley Returns to Radio

Tanu Henry | California Black Media

Popular radio and television personality, whose career first began to skyrocket in the 1990s on Black Entertainment Television and proved its staying power until about four years ago in 2017 — is aiming to once again become a familiar face and name in American media.

This past weekend, Smiley reentered the game on Juneteenth. But, this time, not only as a talk radio host but also as an owner, putting his mark on a format that is both “unapologetically” progressive and African American.

Smiley owns the majority share in KBLA 1580 Los Angeles. Smiley along with a group of investors dropped $7.5 million to purchase the radio station with a reach of about 12 million people in Southern California.

The station is expected to be on air 24 hours a day seven days a week.

“We just want to be a voice for those who have been voiceless for too long in this city, speak a truth that is otherwise not being considered,” Smiley said of the station.

In 2017, Smiley, who was born in Mississippi and raised in Indiana, was fired from National Public Radio (NPR) and the Public Broadcasting Service for having romantic affairs with people on his staff.

For now, Smiley says he’s focused on the launch of the station, its potential impact and the adventure ahead.

“The opportunity to have a Black-owned and Black-operated talk radio station in this city, where talk radio for too long has been all day, all night, all White, is an opportunity that is begging for someone to take advantage of it. So. I’m dumb enough to try,” Smiley said.

Loaded With “Comeback” Support, Lawmakers Approve California’s $267 Billion Budget

Bo Tefu | California Black Media

The California legislature approved Gov. Gavin Newsom’s $267 billion state budget for fiscal year 2021-22. It is packed with support for programs and policy initiatives intended to drive California’s economy out of the downturn caused by the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Cash that will be pumped into the general fund accounts for the major share of the budget, with a total of $96 billion directed to K-12 education and community colleges. That amount is based on minimum funding requirements set by Proposition 98, a ballot initiative that voters approved in 1998.

Although California lawmakers approved the budget in time for the state reopening, “And while we proudly embrace the California comeback, this last year reminds us that we need to plan for the unexpected,” said Gov. Newsom.

“We must maintain a strong fiscal foundation that does not overcommit the state to long-term spending it cannot afford, which could lead to future cuts,” he said.

Gov. Newsom first proposed the budget in January this year, and added some revisions in May, including funding to address issues affecting Black and Brown communities. Although lawmakers say they aim to prioritize long-term issues such as childcare and public health, Gov. Newsom says he wants to focus on reviving the job market by supporting the tourism industry and small businesses to amend California’s economic crisis.

Gov. Newsom announced the full reopening of the state on June 15 at Universal Studios Hollywood as nearly half of California’s population is fully vaccinated. The state also lifted COVID-19 restrictions, including social distancing, mask requirements, and county tiers in most public settings statewide. The state continues to offer cash prizes to newly vaccinated residents as part of its “Vax for the Win” incentive program which started in June this year.

The state’s fiscal year starts, “With the largest surplus in California history, we’re using this once-in-a-generation opportunity to create an economic recovery that will leave nobody behind – with money going directly back to Californians, the nation’s largest small business relief programs, and unprecedented investments to address California’s most persistent challenges such as homelessness, climate change and equity in our education system,” said Gov. Newsom.

Assemblymember Chris Holden (D-Pasadena), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, shared the governor’s optimism about the newly approved budget. He highlighted the economic inequality accelerated by COVID-19 and its impact on low-income families in California. Holden expressed confidence that the budget makes investments in priorities that will address the state’s most important issues.

“This time last year, we feared the pandemic would destroy our economy and leave the state in a deep hole,” said Holden referring to the legislature’s decision.

“Even though the outlook for beating the virus is in sight, we know families continue to struggle in this pandemic,” he said.

However, since the legislature approved the budget, “we are in a much better position than we ever thought given the circumstances. We are making robust investments for priority issues including our economic recovery, education, and homelessness while contributing at a record level to our reserves,” said Holden.

Most Democratic lawmakers gave the budget a thumbs up, but some Republicans remained hesitant about the certainty of California’s economic recovery based on the newly approved budget.

Republican lawmakers claim that the state’s budget is a “placeholder budget” used by legislators to take advantage of loopholes in California’s constitution.

California’s constitution mandates that the legislature pass the budget by midnight each year on June 15 — or lawmakers forfeit their salaries.

The day before the state’s reopening, Republican Sen. James Nielsen was vocal about his opposition to the newly approved budget in a Senate Budget and Fiscal Review Committee meeting.

“This is a fake budget. It’s a feel-good budget. It’s a ‘let us get paid’ budget. But, what we’re voting on is not going to be the [real] budget,” said Nielsen.

“We already know what they’re voting on today, it’s kind of a fraud on the people to make them think, ‘Oh, look at all these wonderful things we’re getting,’” said Nielsen.

The pushback from Republican lawmakers raised questions about the state’s final budget as Gov. Newsom and California legislators negotiate and modify how funds will be allocated. This process has to be completed by July 1, when the budget goes into effect.

Last week, Gov. Newsom also eliminated executive orders he implemented at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. New executive orders he signed lifted the stay-at-home order and the county tier system following the approval of the budget and the reopening of the state.

The California Department of Public Health also released a new order that removed restrictions in public spaces, including at schools and during major events.

As of June 15, people in California are no longer required to wears masks or social distance. But state officials recommend that non-vaccinated people still protect themselves in public places to prevent infection.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

The L.A. Baptist Community Mourns the Loss of Reginald Pope

The L.A. Baptist community is mourning the recent death of Pastor Reginald Pope, who served for 45 years as the senior pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church and as the founder of Watts Area Ministers. He was 89.

In 2015, the city of Los Angeles recognized Pope for his contributions to the Watts community with Councilman Joe Buscaino designating Compton Avenue—from 109th Street to 110th Street—as Pastor Reginald A. Pope Way.

“The landscape of Los Angeles has changed dramatically in the passing of Paster Reginald Pope. He was an asset to our church community,” said Pastor Ticey Brown of Mt. Tabor Baptist Church. “He was cool, caring and will definitely be missed as one of the elder statemen of our great city.”

The sudden death came as a shock to many in the faith community as well as the church he pastored for nearly a half century.

“He wasn’t ill, so it was sudden,” said Pastor Alvin Stafford, who was appointed pastor of the church when Pope—who was his great uncle— retired.

“For over 45 years, he’s been faithful and a pillar not only in our church and community, but our family. He had a gift and a calling for teaching, and he honored and praised the Lord all the way to the end.”

“He was a mentor and a great friend”, said Pastor Robert Taylor of the Beulah Baptist Church in Watts. “He taught me basic principles on how to survive as a pastor and that’s important. Not to mention that he was responsible for getting me involved in the Watts Area Ministers and now I’m president.”

The non-profit—initially organized to re-activate the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. celebration in Watts some years ago—has since become a viable force in addressing the needs of the Watts community.

The Ringgold, Louisiana native—who had a gift for singing— joined Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in 1975 and was able to grow the church from 80 people to 250 with ten associate ministers. He retired last year. 

“The most satisfactory thing in my ministry is to see the growth of the members. It is not necessarily about numbers but is about the spiritual balance and well-being. That’s most satisfying to me,” Pope told L.A. Focus in 2019. “I try to get my members motivated to take outside what we do inside these walls.”

“Any time a person comes to Christ and gets his life in better shape, that’s motivation, that’s encouragement and that’s fulfillment and what ministry should be about.”

A viewing is scheduled for June 30 at Bethel Missionary Baptist Church from 1-5pm. Funeral services will commence at 11am on July 1 at Paradise Baptist Church.

SBA Launches Community Navigator Pilot Program to Help Hard Hit Small Businesses

In accordance with President Biden’s priority to deliver equitable relief to hard-hit small businesses, the SBA (Small Business Administration) recently announced that it is accepting applications for its new Community Navigator Pilot Program. Established by the American Rescue Plan, the program will leverage a community navigator approach to reach our nation’s smallest businesses, with a priority focus on those owned by socially and economically disadvantaged individuals, as well as women and veterans.

Applications will be accepted through July 12, 2021 at grants.gov., with award decisions to follow by August 2021.  Competitive grant awards will range from $1 million to $5 million for a two-year performance period.

Selected partners will engage in targeted outreach for small businesses in underserved communities to help small businesses get the resources and support they need to get back on track as the economy continues to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The Community Navigator Pilot Program is a crucial addition to our SBA programs because it helps us to connect with small businesses that have historically been underserved or left behind. These businesses – the smallest of the small in rural and urban America, and those owned by women, people of color, or veterans – have suffered the greatest economic loss from this pandemic,” said SBA Administrator Isabella Casillas Guzman. “If we’re going to build back better, we need to ensure that all entrepreneurs have the support they need to recover.”

The Community Navigator Pilot will provide counseling, networking, and the assistance needed during this time of economic recovery.

“The SBA understands the importance of partnering with organizations as well as smaller, local institutions that are already embedded in the fabric of the Main Street business communities they serve,” said Assistant Administrator for the Office of Women’s Business Ownership Natalie Madeira Cofield. “Community Navigators are the backbone of aiding underserved and underrepresented communities across the nation with recovery.”

For more information on the Community Navigators Initiative, please visit www.sba.gov/navigators.

T.D. Jakes and Tyler Perry Announce Significant Investments in Atlanta

Tyler Perry is expanding his empire with the addition of 37.5 acres to the existing 330 acres of Fort McPherson property that his studios now occupy. However, the property is not an extension of his studio. Instead, he intends to use the land to create an entertainment hub that would be open to the public and include a retail stores, restaurants and a theater district. 

“Today is a good day,” said Perry. “I’m grateful for the opportunity this gives Tyler Perry Studios to extend our footprint in Atlanta and create more opportunities for the people of Southwest Atlanta with restaurants, entertainment venues and other business opportunities. I’m looking forward to collaborating with my friend T.D. Jakes on his separate but adjacent project and I also want to thank Governor Kemp and Mayor Bottoms for their continued efforts to make Atlanta a better place.”

In a separate deal, the Local Redevelopment Authority Board of Fort McPherson approved the sale of approximately 94.5 acres of remaining land on the historic army base to T.D. Jakes Real Estate Ventures, LLC. 

The unanimous vote, which comes after nearly two months of negotiations, clears the way for the Dallas-based real estate firm to redevelop the property for mixed-income housing and retail. The development is part of Jakes’ long-term vision to cultivate quality affordable housing for the underserved in a model that will be duplicated across the country.

“In my travels across all of America, I see too many Black and Brown working-class people still falling victim to the continued gentrification of our neighborhoods. I’m extremely excited about the accessible ownership options that will exist for future residents of this multigenerational community. This project will bring solutions to the quality-of-life problems and elevate the lives of the Atlantans that will live, work and play there,” Jakes said.

“We share in the City of Atlanta’s belief that the redevelopment of this fertile neighborhood is critical to the future growth of Atlanta,” Jakes continued. “My vision is to develop an oasis within our cities for working families, walking them toward economic viability through financial literacy programs, live-work spaces, mixed income housing and multigenerational options that are so imperative to the betterment of our society.”

“This agreement marks another monumental chapter in the history of Fort Mac,” said Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms. “Thank you to Tyler Perry and Bishop T.D. Jakes for their vision and investment in the Southwest Atlanta community. The positive impact will be felt for generations to come.”

Governor Kemp characterized the deals as a real shot in the arm.

Said Kemp, “Significant job creation such as this will create more opportunities for hardworking Georgians and surrounding small businesses, which are the real backbone of our state’s economy.” 

California to Pay 100 Percent of Low-Income Tenants Back Rent Going Back to April 2020


Those who have been impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic to the point where they have not been able to keep up with their rent and have worried about what will happen when the ban on evictions in no longer in force, are in luck.

Governor Gavin Newsom has announced that anybody that’s been impacted by this pandemic and have not been able to pay their rent, can have 100 percent of their rent paid by the state of California going back to April of 2020.

With the move, Newsom would be killing two birds with one stone—making landlords whole while forgiving unpaid rents for those who would have otherwise been evicted.

In a tweet, Newsom dubbed it as “rent forgiveness on a scale never seen before in the United States”.

The program—which is still being fine-tuned by legislators— would be available to residents who earn no more than 80 percent of the median income in their area and who can prove hardship due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

About 900,000 households in California are behind on rent, with an average of $4,600 in rental arrears according to an analysis by PolicyLink and the USC Equity Research Institute.

California has put a pricetag of $5.2 billion on the program, with most of the funds coming from the federal government. Analysts say it’s more than enough to cover the cost, with Newsom also stating that the payment of utility bills could also be on the table.

In the meantime, the state’s eviction ban is set to retire at the end of the month. Housing advocates want it extended. Those representing landlords disagree, pointing to the state’s economic recovery and the fact that many of them have not been paid any rent for more than a year.

“The moratorium has now been in place for almost a year and a half. Throughout that time, small property owners, folks who have saved their whole lives to buy a rental unit, elderly persons who use rental income to pay for their current care … have faced a lot of significant challenges,” said Supervisor Kathryn Barger. “It is incumbent that we find a way to phase out the eviction moratorium, but based on what I’m hearing, now is not the time.”

Newsom is expected to extend the deadline. The L.A. County Board of Supervisors already voted to extend a moratorium on evictions through September 30. The local moratorium applies where it does not overlap with state protections for residential tenants. It also covers commercial evictions, no-fault evictions and prohibits ousting tenants for unauthorized occupants, pets and other nuisances.

Asm. Akilah Weber’s First Bill Pushes California to Be Prepared for Next Pandemic

Aldon Thomas Stiles | California Black Media

As more Californians get vaccinated and new COVID-19 cases are on the decline, there’s an argument to be made that the state has rounded the corner from the worst stages of the global crisis.

As of June 6, 53.1% of Californians had been vaccinated and there were 757 new COVID-19 cases, down from the 40,423 new cases on Jan. 7.

However, the worst numbers remain stark. Some 63,544 Californians have died of the disease since the beginning of the pandemic.

Assemblymember Akilah Weber (D-San Diego), who was sworn in to represent the 79th District in April, has co-authored her first bill in the lower house of the state Legislature. It aims to ensure that California is more pandemic-ready than it was when the COVID-19 crisis began in 2020.

Weber won a special election earlier this year to replace her mom and former Black Caucus chair, Dr. Shirley Weber, in the Assembly after Gov. Newsom appointed the elder Weber late last year as California’s 33rd Secretary of State.

Assembly Bill (AB) 1207 would establish the Pathways Through Pandemics Task Force in the California Health and Human Services Agency as a vehicle to prepare the state for the eventuality of a pandemic.

“The bill would require the task force to convene various entities to engage in discussions on the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic, develop and recommend best practices for an equitable response to future pandemics, and determine the impact of state laws on coordinating the response to the COVID-19 pandemic, as specified,” the bill reads.

Weber, who is a board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist, stressed the importance of this bill for California’s future.

“We must learn from the mistakes of our past in order to improve the possibilities for our future,” Weber stated. “This is what establishing a Pandemic Taskforce through the passage of AB 1207 will do. The COVID-19 pandemic touched the lives of every Californian and impacted every business within our great State.”

Weber went on to discuss the way the pandemic has pulled the curtain back on some of the vital systems on which all Californians rely.

“[COVID-19] changed the way we learn, the way we interact with each other and the way we live our lives. It also exposed some deep gaps in our society with regards to equity, access and our level of preparedness for a public health crisis,” Weber stated.

Weber specified who she believes suffered from these “deep gaps” during the pandemic in a Facebook post.

“California’s response to the pandemic highlighted existing inequities for people of color and low-income neighborhoods,” Weber wrote.

The bill passed on the assembly floor with 78 votes in favor and zero votes against.

Weber, who unpacked the bill before her colleagues on the Assembly floor June 3, tweeted that AB 1207 is her first authored bill. She also thanked her partner on the bill Assemblymember Luz Rivas (D-North Hollywood).

“Today I presented my first authored bill, AB 1207 on the Asm floor. [AB 1207] creates a taskforce that will research and develop strategies for future pandemics. Thank you [Assemblymember Luz Rivas] for partnering with me on this bill. Together we are ensuring California prioritizes health for all,” Weber tweeted.

Rivas expressed her support for the bill in response to this tweet.

“Congrats! You’re the right author that will bring public health expertise to this issue. Onward,” Rivas tweeted.

Weber also received praise from Mayor Catherine Blakespear of Encinitas.

“Great start to your illustrious career in SAC and good choice of a partner in [Rivas],” Blakespear tweeted.

Weber spoke about the inevitability of another public health crisis and asserted that AB 1207 would help Californians be prepared for it.

“The next pandemic is not a matter of ‘if’ but rather a matter of ‘when,'” Weber warned. “AB 1207 makes a modest investment to ensure California has a roadmap for the future public health crises so that we can address the deficiencies we saw in our response to the COVID-19 pandemic and allow us to be better prepared for the future.”

According to the text of the bill, AB 1207 would require the established task force to report their conclusions about pandemic readiness to the Legislature by Dec. 1, 2024.

In a Facebook post, Weber again stated why she believes this bill is necessary.

“Together, we are ensuring we do everything we can to invest in sustainable plans that value the life and health of all Californians during a pandemic,” Weber wrote. “Now, on to the Senate!”

California Pushes Back on Judge’s Decision to Outlaw State’s Ban on Assault Weapons

Bo Tefu | California Black Media

California Gov. Gavin Newsom and Attorney General Rob Bonta announced last week that the state has appealed a federal court’s decision that declared California’s ban on assault weapons unconstitutional.

Several state officials, including San Francisco Mayor London Breed, also shared their disagreement with the court’s ruling during a press conference held at the Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. The state partnered with a number of gun control advocate groups for the event, including the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence and the Giffords Law Center.

“We can agree that the decision was disappointing,” said Bonta.

“In many ways, the opinion was disturbing and troubling, and a big concern but we cannot be, and we are not, deterred by this,” he said.

Federal Judge Roger Thomas Benitez presided over the decision in Miller v. Bonta. The case was heard at the United States District Court for the Southern District of California.

Bonta said his office has appealed the decision, requesting that the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit leave the current laws in effect for 30 days.

California’s gun laws are some of the strictest in the nation under the Roberti–Roos Assault Weapons Control Act of 1989 (AWCA) which bans the use of specific models of firearms classified as assault weapons. In the pending court case Miller v. Bonta, James Miller, a lawyer who serves as a board member of the San Diego County Gun Owners, advocated for the use of the AR-15 rifle. However, the semiautomatic rifle with certain features is an illegal assault weapon according to California gun laws. Miller argued that AR-15 rifles can be used for self-defense under the second amendment. Miller, who also serves on the Cajon Valley School Board, initially challenged former Attorney General Xavier Becerra on California’s criminalization of AR-15 rifles in April this year. The ongoing case, which Attorney General Bonta inherited, sparked heated debates about gun laws in the wake of increasing gun violence and mass shootings.

Breed recalled her personal experience with gun violence growing up in the Bay Area.

“We’re here at San Francisco General Hospital. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been here, after a friend that I grew up with was shot,” she said.

Breed was joined by Mattie Scott who lost her son to gun violence. The mayor grew up with Scott’s son who was killed in 1996 at a graduation party in San Francisco.

“We don’t want to see another person, another child lost to gun violence in this city in this state in this country,” said Mayor Breed.

“We’ve had a law on the books in the state for over 30 years, and a judge decides that our law is no longer constitutional. That law has saved countless numbers of lives,” she said.

According to Statista Research Department, California had a total of 22 mass shootings between 1982 and 2021. In the court decision, Judge Benitez compared the effectiveness of an AR-15 rifle to a Swiss Army Knife. Based on the federal court’s ruling, the semiautomatic machine gun is, “Good for both home and battle,” said Judge Benitez.

“Like the Swiss Army Knife, the popular AR-15 rifle is a perfect combination of home defense weapon and homeland defense equipment,” the federal judge said in favor of Miller.

Bonta disagreed with the federal judge’s reasoning to justify the court’s decision.

“Equating assault weapons to Swiss Army knives, and false claims that COVID-19 vaccines have killed more people than mass shootings was shocking,”

Although the murder of Scott’s son remains unsolved, she is an avid activist for social justice related to gun violence.

“The judge who issued this decision is wrong,” said Scott.

“It is insulting to read his decision when he called the kind of weapon that killed my son, akin to a pocketknife,” she said.

“Pocket knives don’t tear families apart. They don’t shoot up schools, churches, movie theaters, and street corners,” she said in reference to the recent mass shootings across the country.

Contrary Benitez’s belief that AR-15 rifles can be compared to pocket knives, trauma surgeon Dr. Andre Campbell said that the semiautomatic rifle is a lethal assault weapon designed for the battlefield.

“An AR-15 is a weapon of mass destruction. It is used in the battlefield to kill the enemy, it’s a gun that is used in warfare and should not be available or used in the streets of the United States,” said Campbell.

Campbell has treated many bullet wounds on the frontlines of trauma care for over two decades and has witnessed the devastation a single bullet can cause to the human body.

“It is as if a bomb went off in the tissues of patients,” said Campbell describing the impact of an AR-15 bullet in patients he’s treated over the years.

The executive director of the Giffords Law Center Robyn Thomas said that the federal judge’s decision to give civilians access to military-grade weapons sets California’s gun laws back by 32 years.

“The decision is not based on the correct interpretation of the law,” said Thomas.

“The comprehensive gun regulation which we have pioneered here in the state is protecting the lives of Californians. It is making us safer,” she said.

In its budget for 2021-22, the state has allocated $200 million for the California Violence Intervention and Prevention Grant Program. The investment was set up to prevent gun violence in high-risk communities statewide.

“Folks that wax on about public safety, and they sit back passively and say nothing about this outrageous decision. Shame on them. What frauds,” said Newsom.

The governor urged lawmakers to evaluate the absurdity of the court’s decision to justify the personal use of a rifle that is, “nothing more than a weapon of war,” he said.

The governor said that gun control has always been a bipartisan issue that helped California lawmakers enact, “progressive and aggressive,” gun safety laws that regulated the people’s right to bear arms for over three decades.

California’s ban on assault weapons remains in effect for 30 days as the attorney general appeals the court’s decision in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals.

California Black Media’s coverage of COVID-19 is supported by the California Health Care Foundation.

NAACP Student Members Can Apply for $15,000 Scholarships Until June 18

Tanu Henry | California Black Media

The NAACP and SmileDirectClub, a Nashville-based oral care company specializing in teeth-straightening technology, have partnered to offer scholarships to African American and other students of color.

They must maintain a 3.0 grade point average or above.

The $15,000 awards will be granted to young people studying Science, technology, engineering or math and must be used for tuition and fees. Payments will be annualized at around $3,500 each year.

Winners must also be high school seniors or undergraduates and members of the NAACP, the country’s oldest civil rights organization, which was founded in 1909 and has over 20000 branches across the country.

“The SmileDirectClub Scholarship will help empower students in the Black community studying STEM with financial support so they can pursue their education with less of an economic burden,” said Yumeka Rushing, Chief Strategy Officer, NAACP.

“This partnership is one of the ways the NAACP is working to secure educational equality of rights to eliminate race-based discrimination and ensure the health and wellbeing of everyone,” Rushing added.

Students interested in the scholarship can apply on the NAACP site. The deadline is June 18. The winners, who the NAACP’s N-SPIRE committee – a group that “focuses on the creation, development and awarding of scholarship programs” –will be announced August 9.

“Through the SmileDirectClub Scholarship with the NAACP, we’re investing in the next generation of innovators and supporting the growth of diversity in STEM, a field that affects almost all aspect of our everyday lives,” said Cheryl DeSantis, Chief People & Diversity Officer, SmileDirectClub.

Cal Unemployment System Backlogged With More Than 200,000 Claims

Quinci LeGardye | California Black Media

California may be reopening beginning June 15, but for many unemployed workers, the economic struggle caused by the COVID-19 pandemic is nowhere near ending.

Many Californians are still waiting for the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD) to clear their backlog of claims, with the department’s data page showing over 221,000 claims are pending past 21 days as of June 12.

On May 28, Assemblymember Mike A. Gipson (D-Carson) hosted a press conference featuring constituents from his district who are seeking immediate help from EDD. Three constituents spoke about their struggles while trying to get their unemployment benefits. They experienced extremely long wait times while calling EDD and faced difficulties trying to verify their identity or correct claim amounts with the department.

The difficulties with EDD that the speakers expressed in their stories mirrored complaints the department’s service and call centers have been reporting since the pandemic began last year.

Roneisha Williams, a Gipson constituent, is waiting on an appeal after receiving an incorrect benefit amount. She described her experience communicating with EDD representatives over the phone as “confusing.”

She said that she received conflicting information from the EDD and representatives asked her for a different set of documents each time she called.

“When you call and speak with someone regarding the solution, you’re not given the same information. You can call one representative and they’ll tell you to submit a documentation. You submit that documentation. You call to confirm that it has been received. The other representative will tell you that not only you weren’t supposed to submit that documentation, but really you need to go to this step, and we need to see this documentation.”

Williams also spoke about her difficulties going through the identity verification process with the third-party company ID.me.

EDD launched the ID.me verification process in October 2020 as part of an effort to crack down on fraud. The department also suspended 1.4 million accounts last December and made some claimants verify their identities. Since then, unemployed Californians directed to ID.me have faced delays and technical issues. Willams also expressed concern for less technologically-savvy claimants who may have to use ID.me.

“Having to contact a third party to qualify for your unemployment benefits is very stressful, especially when they do not have any human contact customer service available. With the ID.me verification, everything is done through your phone. So that in itself is very isolating. I know how to work technology but what about the constituents that aren’t familiar with it. What about the constituents that don’t have a high-powered or accurate camera on their phone to send a copy of their ID?” Williams said.

Roger Lozoya, a pipeline welder who also lives in Gipson’s district, lost his job five months ago, and has had no income since. He said his identity was stolen and used to receive EDD benefits. So, when he tried to get benefits, the EDD told him that he owed them money.

Lozoya said, “I’m a welder, and I’m blessed to have a career that I worked hard to get. I pay a lot of taxes and I pay into EDD. The only thing they constantly do to me is call me a liar — that I’m stealing from them. They told me I owe them $69,000. How do I owe $69,000? At the time they were saying that I was claiming it, I was working.”

In the months without income, Lozoya said that he has sold his possessions, including his work truck and tools, to support his family.

During the press conference, Gipson called on the EDD to take measures to get through the claims backlog. He also urged the EDD to extend working hours and keep phone lines open during evenings and weekends.

Gipson also mentioned the state audits of EDD, and suggested that implementing the recommendations of the State Auditor would likely help address the backlog.

“We absolutely have to do everything we can to make sure that the people who need this help the most, get the help that they’re seeking to put food on the table, clothes their children’s back and also a roof over the head,” said Gipson.

In response to a California Black Media request for comment, EDD Media Services said, “We understand how challenging this pandemic has been for millions of people. Since April 2020, EDD call centers are — and have been open 12 hours a day, seven days a week — which includes evenings and weekends, among many other efforts to continually work to improve the customer experience. EDD offers useful self-help information including a 24-hour self-help line 1-866-333-4606, AskEDD and an online chatbot answering frequently asked questions, a YouTube channel with helpful videos, and many articles on at EDD.ca.gov. The call center can be reached 8:00 am to 8:00 pm seven days a week at 1-800-300-5616.“

EDD also shared the actions that the department has taken to improve the customer experience, including, “improving the online help text to clearly explain what is required by the bi-weekly certification questions to help claimants avoid delays, deploying document upload, including a mobile-friendly version, to help claimants save time over mail, launching a new feature that allows a caller to hold their place “in line” when contacting the call center until the Department calls the claimant back, [and] continuing to monitor customer areas of confusion and trending issues and addressing them with improved public information.”

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