A “strike team” formed by Gov. Newsom will address a backlog of unemployment claims and explore other ways for the state to meet the needs of workers who have lost their jobs because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Employment Development Department strike team will be headed by Yolanda Richardson, secretary of the state Government Operations Agency, and Jennifer Pahlka, founder of Code for America, a nonprofit that assists governments in adopting new technologies. Pahlka also served as deputy U.S. chief technology officer and helped create the United States Digital Service.

“There should be no barriers between Californians and the benefits they have earned,” said Newsom. “Unprecedented demand due to job loss during this pandemic paired with an antiquated system have created an unacceptable backlog of claims. Californians deserve better, and these reform efforts aim to move the department in that direction.”

Since March, the state has processed more than 8 million unemployment claims and paid out more than $49 billion in benefits. But the state estimates that another 1 million pending claims may be eligible for payment, along with new jobless claims that continue to be filed.

The state expects to eliminate the backlog by the end of September.

The state has already implemented several new federal benefit programs since the start of the pandemic. It also created a new seven-day-a-week call center, and either reassigned or hired thousands of new staff to assist in handling jobless claims.

With support from the State Department of Technology and Office of Digital Innovation, in addition to addressing the backlog of unemployment claims, the strike team has been given 45 days to identify additional short-term and long-term steps to improve the process.

“While we have faced unprecedented challenges this year, unemployment insurance should be a human-centered system that supports people during hard times,” said Julie A. Su, secretary of the Labor and Workforce Development Agency. “From the first contact to final resolution and all communication in between, we are committed making the UI experience better for Californians.”