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Tipline Investigation: Local musician waiting for unemployment benefits forced to sell instruments

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - We have another followup to the chaos within California’s unemployment system. Our series of reports have clearly shown how some people are desperately trying to survive as they deal with the broken system.

Ernie Orosco and his bands, Ernie and the Emperors and The Brian Faith Band, are well known in the Santa Barbara area. They’ve played at venues up and down the coast for decades. But, when the pandemic hit the music stopped.

Orosco has suffered through tough times recently, including the death of his brother Cory.

“I had a recording studio and that went down. I had my writer’s royalties go down, so you know it’s been pretty tough,” said Orosco as he walked around his quiet music studio.

Things got worse when the pandemic hit. All concerts, events and venues where he played shutdown, wiping out his main source of income. The studio, with its walls covered in music history, has been quiet for the past year and is mostly used for storage.

“It’s pretty bad. The thing that keeps me going is the music. I rehearse every night with my brother Brian,” said Orosco.

Out of work and no paycheck, Orosco filed for unemployment benefits and pandemic assistance in June, 2020 through the California Employment Development Department also known as the EDD. He said ten months have gone by and he's received no benefits.

“I’ve made numerous calls to them. I always, they say there’s an invalid number, case number, social security, whatever it was, was invalid,” said Orosco.

Orosco said all he's been getting is the runaround. At one point, EDD made him go before a labor judge to prove his identity. The judge confirmed Orosco is, who he says he is, and ruled in his favor. He has stacks of documentation. Yet, EDD still has not paid any benefits. That’s when Orosco contacted the NewsChannel Tipline like hundreds of others trying to get their unemployment money. We contacted EDD on Orosco’s behalf in September and again in December with no response.

"I was just kinda frustrated. I don't know, here we are today. I know everybody is hurting and I was just asking for the minimum," said Orosco.

By January, things got so bad financially, Orosco started selling off pieces of his livelihood his guitars and amps.

"Just trying to survive. The equipment I had to sell, that stuff I didn't really want to sell. You know, that's just the way it goes," said Orosco.

Even more maddening is knowing that crooks and scammers have stolen an estimated $8-billion taxpayer dollars through the EDD, while people like Orosco are down to their last guitar string.

Orosco said EDD did finally contact him after The NewsChannel called a third time last week and notified the department that we would air this story. Orosco said the EDD representative promised he would get his money this time and they are helping him with the paperwork to make sure that happens.

We asked EDD for a comment for this story, so far we have not received an official statement.


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C.J. Ward

C.J. Ward is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3 and the station’s lead investigative reporter. To learn more about C.J., click here

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