After a hiatus that spanned two weeks, California has resumed initial applications for unemployment benefits, now with a new online identity verification system aimed at speeding up claims processing.
(TNS) — After a two-week hiatus, California has resumed initial applications for unemployment benefits, now with a new online identity verification system aimed at speeding up claims processing.
The state Employment Development Department stopped taking new applications Sept. 19 to integrate the system from Virginia cybersecurity firm ID.me. It announced Thursday a “soft launch” of the new system, in advance of the official launch Monday. It sent email or text messages to about 136,000 people who had signed up to receive notifications during the pause, inviting them to submit a new application for benefits.
“Not everyone who was emailed and texted has returned yet to file a claim. We will be assessing progress today and combining it with the results of our soft launch over the weekend and sharing that information” as soon as Tuesday, EDD spokeswoman Loree Levy said.
She said EDD “began using ID.me to verify identity with groups of applicants on the email waiting list and the tool performed well in each of the last four days over the weekend. On Monday, the ID.me was among a group of consumer web applications that suffered delayed response times for a period of 30 minutes. At this time, we believe the issue was unrelated to the successful installation of the tool with EDD in California, which has otherwise been functioning well so far.”
The ID.me system is aimed at reducing EDD’s burgeoning backlog of claims. As of Sept. 20, about 600,000 Californians had been waiting for more than three weeks to have their initial unemployment claim processed. An additional 1 million people had received payments but subsequently had them halted for eligibility certification or other issues, according to a report issued by a “strike team” appointed by Gov. Gavin Newsom to look into EDD’s problems.
The team identified EDD’s method of manually verifying identities as one of the key bottlenecks. About 40% of new claims were being flagged for manual processing, often because the applicant’s name did not exactly match what was listed for Social Security or in other databases. That delayed a benefit determination for at least three weeks. ID.me is expected to reduce the percentage of new claims being flagged for manual processing verification to 10% and increase the speed at which new claims are paid.
All new applicants will have to first create or sign into an EDD UI Online account. Then, they will have to set up an account with ID.me. About 1 out of 4 users will already have an ID.me account from previous interactions with other government agencies or businesses, according to ID.me chief executive Blake Hall.
Next, they will have to secure the ID.me account by entering a passcode sent to their mobile phone or computer. Then, they will have to upload or take pictures of their driver’s license or other government ID, or they can verify their identity by answering questions about their credit history. Once their identity is verified, they can continue with their claim.
Most people will use a mobile phone equipped with a camera, or they can use a computer to have a video chat with an ID.me representative and hold up their documents for inspection. Those who cannot verify their identity through ID.me when applying online will have to file a claim by phone, fax or mail. For details, see https://bit.ly/2I3bFhr.
People who are unwilling or unable to provide personal information to a third-party company for identity verification and file by mail may not be able to use EDD’s online portal to certify for continuing benefits every two weeks, as they could before ID.me was implemented, said Daniela Urban, executive director of the Center for Workers’ Rights, a nonprofit in Sacramento.
Levy said the EDD encourages claimants “who apply via paper or phone to register in UI Online to help manage and monitor their claim, including certifying for benefits.”
California is the fifth and by far the largest state to use ID.me to verify the identity of unemployment applicants, but most of the other states are using it in a more limited capacity, according to spokespeople for employment departments. In Florida, it’s for claimants who are locked out of their online accounts because of suspected fraud. In Arizona, it’s being used to confirm the identities of individuals on a specific subset of existing claims to ensure they were not filed fraudulently with information obtained from nationwide data breaches. In Nevada, it’s optional for filers. Georgia’s Labor Department did not return a request for comment.
In those four states combined, ID.me has verified more than 41,000 people who had filed for unemployment. By comparison, during the week ending Sept. 19 alone, California received 137,016 claims for regular state unemployment or pandemic unemployment compensation.
Separately, Urban said she began hearing last week that the EDD is “freezing” Bank of America debit cards, which is how unemployed people receive their benefits every two weeks.
“We believe it is linked to the increased fraud compliance efforts they announced” on Sept. 10. “One thing they said they would do is limit multiple claims at an address. We think that’s who they are targeting. This is unprecedented,” she said.
Normally, EDD notifies people of potential overpayments by mail, and gives them time to respond before cutting off their benefits.
“Now they are cutting them off without notice,” and telling them after the fact they will need to submit identification to continue to get payments. That could exacerbate the backlog ID.me is supposed to reduce, Urban said. “The fact these two things are happening at the same time is contradictory. It’s a due process violation.”
Levy said there was a “slight delay” in issuing payments Monday but “it had nothing to do with the implementation of ID.me.”
©2020 the San Francisco Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.
Looking for the latest gov tech news as it happens? Subscribe to GT newsletters.