As the COVID-19 pandemic flattened social life and threw people’s livelihood into doubt, CAIR-CA’s team heard from community members concerned about the historic levels of unemployment and the specter of housing evictions.
In keeping with our grassroots focus, CAIR-CA’s staff responded to the community’s rapidly evolving needs by expanding our legal assistance to cover issues such as unemployment benefits, stimulus payments, as well as housing and eviction defense. CAIR-CA’s expanded legal services statewide focused on advising individuals facing unemployment and underemployment, on their eligibility for Unemployment Insurance (“UI”) benefits as well as the expanded Pandemic Unemployment Assistance. For many, it was their first time applying to these types of programs.
In one such example, CAIR-SFBA assisted a community member who had served as an early childhood education teacher for over twenty years in various roles who found herself out of a job as the pandemic shuttered schools.
Having never applied for UI benefits before, the client reached out to CAIR-SFBA to assess her eligibility for the unemployment benefits and the information she needed to provide to California’s Employment Development Department (“EDD”), the state agency responsible for issuing unemployment and related benefits. CAIR-SFBA worked closely with the client to submit her UI application and ensured that she successfully received the bi-weekly payments so she could cover her monthly expenses and shelter in place safely at home to during the pandemic.
In addition, CAIR-CA attorneys educated community members on the finer points of the numerous eviction moratoriums in place throughout California’s fiftyeight counties.60 Finally, CAIR-CA advised individuals concerned about receiving stimulus payments of their status and eligibility for the funds, especially as undocumented communities were left out of the accounting.61
Joining forces, CAIR SV/CC and the Center for Workers’ Rights (“CWR”), pioneered and operated a full-time multilingual Workers Helpline, assisting callers with questions around eligibility for unemployment insurance and related issues. We worked closely with CWR’s attorneys, who are experts in unemployment insurance, to provide language access to individuals who have limited English proficiency. The Workers Helpline continues to be crucial in assisting individuals facing allegations of false statements and overpayments by EDD as well as providing legal advice and representation before the California Unemployment Insurance Appeals Board in cases of benefits denials. Our partnership with CWR ensured that our community’s voices were heard at administrative agencies, in courts, and in the California legislature.
Moreover, working in coalition with broader partners, CAIR-CA provided ongoing know your rights trainings to increase accessibility for all vulnerable communities and improve EDD’s policies. Indeed, given the reality that nearly 4.6 million individuals in California filed claims with EDD, a record number, CAIR-CA and CWR worked hard to push the agency to ensure families continued receiving payments particularly as certification requirements prevented nearly one million workers from receiving benefits.62 As a result of these efforts EDD is now required to provide non-machine translation for all benefits programs, vital documents, and notices, as well as individual communications to UI claimants.