Eligibility workers at the Orange County Social Services Agency that process applications for public benefit assistance like food stamps and MediCal are planning to picket outside agency offices for better pay during their lunch breaks.
Workers say they are overworked and underpaid and calling on the agency to hire more employees to ease their workload amid contract negotiations.
They plan to picket from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. tomorrow at the Agency’s Anaheim offices as workers in industries across California ranging from Hollywood actors and screenwriters to hotel maids hit the picket line demanding better pay and working conditions.
[Read: The Summer of Strikes]
Diana Corral, President of American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 2076 representing OC eligibility workers, says the workload is overwhelming as the need for public benefits remains high in the county.
“The new intake applications that we’ve been getting have doubled up over the last year,” she said in a Monday phone interview. “We need more staffing, we need more workers, especially with the way that the economy is right now a lot of people are coming to our office to apply for benefits.”
Corral said agency leaders are not addressing their staffing concerns since workers raised them during the pandemic.
“It’s just gotten to the point now, where we have a lot of workers going out on stress leave, or they’re going out on workers comp because they’re so stressed out,” she said. “Workers are burnt out.”
An Tran, Director of the Agency, gave a brief statement over email Monday.
“Our eligibility professionals are so important to what we do at the Social Services Agency, connecting our most vulnerable residents to resources like food assistance or health insurance. We look forward to partnering with our staff and unions to address their concerns,” reads the statement.
Earlier this year, food bank leaders and the Social Service Agency warned that California’s most vulnerable residents were heading for a food cliff amid historic inflation and a decrease in food benefits at the end of the State’s emergency declaration over the COVID-19 pandemic.
They directed affected residents to speak with the agency.
At the same time, CalOptima leaders warned that the termination of the COVID emergency could mean 146,000 poor residents could lose their MediCal health coverage.
Over half the population of Santa Ana and roughly half the population in Anaheim are enrolled in the County’s health care plan for the poor.
Corral said since the supplemental COVID benefits stopped more people have come into the office for help.
“We’re bringing in more applications but there’s not enough of us to process the applications that are coming in and we’re constantly having to work overtime just to try to catch up,” Corral said.
Corral said the county has 1,600 eligibility workers – including people on leave.
She said they need twice as many to keep up with demand.
As of July, over 294,100 people are enrolled in CalFresh – food stamp benefits for low income families – in Orange County, according to a state database.
MediCal’s total membership counts 973,571 OC residents.
It’s not just staffing levels workers are upset about.
Corral said workers are hoping to get a 13% pay raise over the next three years but the county agency is offering 10.25% instead. She adds that eligibility workers in OC make significantly less compared to surrounding counties.
On Wednesday, workers plan to picket outside the agency’s Santa Offices from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.
Meanwhile, hotel workers throughout Orange County – and Southern California – are demanding better pay and working conditions in a wave of temporary strikes.
And a bill that would allow striking workers in California to collect unemployment pay after two weeks on the picket line is heading to Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office.
Corral said they don’t want to get to a full blown strike.
“We had called off a picket two weeks ago because we thought, ‘okay, there’s potential for us to have some significant movement at the table,’” she said.
“It’s just not happening.”
Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.
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