Applying for Unemployment in California: 'Unofficial' Facebook Group Creates Help Website

"When you read these messages that I get — people are pleading for help. When you have information and knowledge about something, it's very hard to ignore when you know you can help," said freelance filmmaker Erica Chan on starting a Facebook group and now a website to help Californians navigate unemployment. (Courtesy of Erica Chan)

In March, Erica Chan realized a lot of her friends in the freelance film world would soon need to apply for Unemployment Insurance. As a filmmaker, she encourages others in her field to sign up for Unemployment Insurance because of the inconsistent nature of film work.

“I posted on my personal page that any of my friends could ask me questions, if they needed help,” said Chan.

Then on March 19, she created a Facebook group: Unofficial CA unemployment help Public Group.

“Some started commenting about working in multiple states and being a faxed applicant. I had no answers. So I decided through the collective knowledge of the internet, I could potentially find other people and we could all help each other,” Chan said.

The group now has over 37,000 members on Facebook. On Friday, they launched a new website, FAQ.CA.UI, to provide an easier way to navigate questions, find answers and offer support.

The group has become a source of support and collaboration.

“I always see other people with so much gratitude and thanking each other for the help,” Chan said. “So many people are lost and confused. I would even say some even feel helpless — without the Facebook group.”

Chan said the EDD website is poorly designed and the application questions are “insanely confusing.” Her new website aims to “translate the governmental jargon into verbiage that actually makes sense to someone applying.”

On Facebook, some of the most important information gets lost. “Even if someone were to give a good answer within the comments, another user would ask that same question five comments later. It's so inefficient and inefficiency really bothers me — hence the website,” Chan said.

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Chan describes the new website as “blog-style,” which includes frequently asked questions, organized by what kind of situation people are in — “1st time applicant, W2, PUA, 13-week extension, phone tips, etc.” In addition, there’s a forum section, similar to Facebook, to discuss particular issues.

Ruddy Salazar, a freelance filmmaker based in Los Angeles, joined the group shortly after Chan started it. He’s familiar with the process of applying for Unemployment Insurance, but he's had to call the EDD office three times since the new coronavirus began. Two of those times he said it took over 300 calls to get through. He now has a variety of tricks for making it past answering machines and he passes along what he learns to the Facebook group.

Salazar, who read the Cares Act when it came out, says he’ll continue doing Facebook lives to answer questions. “I like to joke and say that EDD is paying me unofficially through unemployment benefits … I can't just stay home and do nothing. I have to find a way to be proactive,” he said.

Salazar sometimes spends eight hours a day answering questions and responding to comments on the group page. If a case is really complicated, he’ll get on the phone with someone and try to walk through what he might do if he were in their situation.

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He says some of the biggest issues right now are identity verification and how long the process takes. “There's people that have been waiting upwards of eight weeks to hear a response to get their identity verified and they are not being paid until then.” Another issue is “hybrids,” people with primarily 1099 income, but who are also making a small amount of W2 income.

Though Chan and Salazar both say they have to take breaks from spending all day assisting others, Chan said, “When you read these messages that I get — people are pleading for help. When you have information and knowledge about something, it's very hard to ignore when you know you can help.”

Developments and guidance on how to file for unemployment insurance has been changing rapidly. For additional support, please refer to KQED's guide, the official EDD website, or FAQCAUI.