By Julie Watts

SACRAMENTO (CBS13) — For months, the Employment Development Department told CBS13 that the agency does not track how many of the newly unemployed have actually been paid.

However, CBS13 obtained federal data that indicates the agency does, in fact, track the number of “First Payments” made each month and that California may have paid fewer than three out of five new unemployment claims during the first two months of the pandemic.

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Gov. Gavin Newsom and Labor Sectary Julie Su repeatedly insisted that people who filed for unemployment in California, following the pandemic, would be paid within three weeks. In early April, CBS13 begin hearing from dozens of viewers who claimed that simply wasn’t happening.

So, we asked the state for data on how many of the millions of new claims processed had actually been approved – and how many had been paid.

First we asked the EDD, then we asked the Governor’s office and then we asked the Governor himself during a April 10th press conference. Gov. Newsom said he’d make sure a member of his team got back to us.

However, following conversations and emails with a representative from the Department of Workforce and Labor Development which oversees the EDD, and dozens of back and forth emails with EDD media representatives, it became clear the agency either could not, or would not, provide us with data that revealed how many of the millions of pandemic-related unemployment claims the agency had actually paid.

Over the past several months we have received a variety of responses from the EDD ranging from “it’s just not available at this time” to “we most likely will not be able to break out initial payments from continued claim payments.”

The public information that EDD does provide includes the total number of claims that are paid each month. That includes on-going claims from people who were unemployed before the pandemic so there has been no way to determine how many of the newly-unemployed have received their first payment, and how many are still waiting.

However, just like every other state, California is required to provide “First Payment” data to the federal government.

“This is the data people really want to know and I’m glad you found it. Are people getting paid the benefits that they have applied for?” Economist Andrew Stettner said in an interview with CBS13 Investigative Reporter Julie Watts.

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Stettner is a Senior Fellow with the Century Foundation, specializing in unemployment insurance, and he notes that the EDD is performing above the national average when it comes to paying pandemic unemployment.

According to data provided to CBS13 by the US Department of Labor (DOL), nationwide, 46% of the unemployment claims filed between March and April were paid. In California, that number jumps to 56%.

The DOL data indicates that EDD received 4,008,600 “Initial Claims” between March and April and made 2,255,565 “First Payments.” By the end of April, data indicates, the ratio of first payments to initial claims was is three out of five.

In response, the EDD told CBS13 the numbers provided by the DOL “cannot be correlated” because the agency points out that first payments made in March may have come from claims filed in February, and April claims may be paid in May.

But Stettner says the “first payment” to “initial claim” ratio is commonly used in unemployment studies and he adds that looking at multiple months, as we did, helps compensate for the discrepancy.

“I think this is a really fair metric. And we would encourage states to be looking at this as one of the metrics they should be looking at.”  Stettner said. “I’m glad you’ve gotten the data and are able to share it with your viewers.”

It’s important to note that first payments don’t necessarily translate to continuing payments. CBS13 has heard from many viewers who received their first payments but stopped getting payments after that.

The EDD told CBS13 in March they believe they issued four out of five first payments within four weeks. The agency says it doesn’t have data for April yet.

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Follow our continuing coverage as CBS13 works to get answers to your Coronavirus Unemployment Questions: 

CBS13 Investigates: Coronavirus Unemployment

Julie Watts