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The top story nationwide this week has been the disastrous rollout of Obamacare — and new reports that it's worse than first imagined.

But here in California, it's a far different story. A Santa Rosa friend emailed me on Tuesday to say it took him all of about 30 minutes to find better health coverage than he has now.

Because of "pre-existing conditions," he and his wife, both self-employed professionals, had only been able to buy expensive catastrophic-care policies. But through the Covered California website, Tim Stafford, a professional writer, said he "purchased a comparable policy that lets us stay with our present physicians for less than half what we have been paying."

And, unlike his previous policy, he noted, "if I don't like it, I can switch."

It's unfortunate more states didn't follow California's example in creating similar exchanges so as to not leave their residents dependent on the troubled federal system.

But that's not to say California has been immune from embarrassing system failures of late. In fact, one can argue that the problems with Obamacare have blocked more heat and light from falling on the state's abysmal computer problems — a glitch that has prevented nearly 150,000 Californians from getting jobless benefits.

During an Assembly committee hearing on Wednesday, officials from the Employment Development Department were called to explain for the first time the problems that have plagued the system since before Labor Day. And it seems to me they should be pilloried again for their answers.

According to the Sacramento Bee, top EDD officials apologized for the foul-ups but said they have largely resolved the issues. EDD Chief Deputy Director Sharon Hilliard told the committee that fixes have been made and "the system is working."

"No, it's not," one unemployed single mother from Santa Rosa told me emphatically this week.

Erin (not her real name), a 38-year-old social services worker who lost her job in January, said she was receiving $138 a week in jobless benefits from the Employment Development Department, which was all she and 12-year-old daughter had to live on.

But then, inexplicably, the benefits stopped in early August. And despite repeated attempts to contact a human at EDD and straighten out the problems, she has gotten nowhere.

"Suddenly, I didn't hear anything from them," she said. "I have called, but I always get cut off . . . And basically you are at a dead end," she said.

At one point, she even sent a certified letter to the Employment Development Department trying to explain her situation and get some help. She even got confirmation that the letter had been received. But still nothing.

"It is frustrating," she said. "I just keep getting the same old recording, &‘Due to the high volume of calls . . ."

Encouraged by her boyfriend, she went down to the EDD office in Santa Rosa — where employees referred the two of them to a bank of phones that connect directly to the EDD central office. But again, they couldn't get through to a human being. At best, they would get a voice mail message or put on hold, only eventually to be disconnected.

"We were there for at least an hour and 45 minutes," she said. They paid another visit to the Santa Rosa EDD office last week, but, again, they failed to get through to anyone.

"It's like they just drop you dead," she said.

The official explanation is that the state system broke down during a conversion of old jobless claim data into a new computer system, part of a $188 million upgrade of EDD's unemployment insurance processing system, which was supposed to make life easier for everyone. On the contrary.

Officials say the conversion problems have been fixed, but there remains a massive backlog of claims that have not been filled.

According to the Bee, Irene Livingston, from the EDD's office in San Jose, conceded during last week's hearing that it is "nearly impossible" for out-of-work Californians to contact an employee at EDD in person.

"There's literally hundreds of thousands of messages that have yet to receive a response," she said.

To make matters worse, many of these individuals and families were told that, as of Nov. 1, they would have to do with even less.

In June, the U.S. Senate approved a farm bill that required $4.5 billion in cuts to food stamps over the next 10 years. Meanwhile, House Republicans are pushing for far more substantial cuts — $39 billion over 10 years — that would decimate a program that helps roughly one in seven households in the nation.

Whether it's a glitch in our computers or a virus in our thinking and our politics, one thing is certain: The safety net that's supposed to be there for all of us during trying times is being cut to ribbons.

And we can't seem to get through to anyone.

<i>Paul Gullixson is editorial director for The Press Democrat. Email him at paul.gullixson@pressdemocrat.com</i>