SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - We have a heartwarming follow up now to a recent Tipline Investigation. A few weeks ago, we introduced you to Ernie Orosco. The professional guitarist started selling off his instruments to survive a year after applying for unemployment benefits.
Ernie’s story struck a chord with a lot of people in our community. The pandemic shutdown killed all of his business and, like so many others, he thought his state unemployment benefits would help him when he needed it most.
Orosco invited us back to his music studio to give us an update on his long fight with the California Employment Development Department. He filed for EDD benefits in March, 2020, but all he got for the next year was the runaround.
“I’ve made numerous calls to them. They say there’s an invalid number, case number, social security, whatever it was, was invalid,” said Orosco.
At one point, EDD made him go before a labor judge to prove his identity. Even after the judge ruled in his favor, EDD still refused to pay his benefits. Things got so bad, Orosco started selling his gear, guitars and amps, and accepted financial help from friends.
“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.
After NewsChannel Three aired our Tipline story about Orosco’s battle with EDD, things started turning around. Covid restrictions started easing.
“We’re gonna be playing in Ventura. We have gigs in Ventura as well as call backs on the gigs we had before Covid hit,” said Orosco.
An EDD representative also called him back several times and helped him through the process.
"That was the difference, that they kept following up,” said NewsChannel reporter C.J. Ward. “Yes, they did and they did a great job and they called just as I was going to give up,” said Orosco.
But, he kept fighting and eventually received one year's worth of back benefits all at once and he’s receiving new benefits every two weeks.
“So when you got the money, what was your first thought?" asked Ward. “Ah, I was in disbelief, no way that was amazing. I’ll be out of debt CJ because of you. You’re the best,” said Orosco.
Orosco said he's been able to pay off everyone who helped him financially over the past year.
An EDD spokeswoman sent is this statement, "We're so happy we were able to gather the necessary eligibility information we needed from Mr. Orosco to resolve the issue on his claim. EDD is dedicated to doing everything possible to ensure benefits are paid to those who meet all of the eligibility requirements of this week-by-week eligibility based insurance program. Claimants are required to meet initial and ongoing requirements in order to receive benefit payments.
We know the program can be complex and challenging, especially in light of the federal unemployment benefit programs also available. That's why we continue to update our website Top FAQs each week, provide How To Videos, and continue to update the guidance and tips available on the COVID-19 section of our EDD website to help Californians navigate the unemployment programs as smoothly as possible and avoid delays."
If you want to see Orosco and his band play, they are scheduled to perform at the Groovin' in the Grove event in Goleta on July 24th.
You can see this story tonight at 6 & 11pm on NewsChannel 3.