State legislators introduced a package of initiatives at a news conference Thursday aimed at fixing up the troubled California Employment Development Department.
The state’s unemployment system has lost too many taxpayer dollars to fraud and disappointed too many underserved Californians in the past year and needs reform, the lawmakers said.
A Jan. 28 report by the California state auditor and task force team found that the EDD was ridden with fraudulent cases worth $10.4 billion due to inadequate planning for a surge in unemployment cases and delayed implementation of fraud prevention methods.
In a quick effort to relieve fraud concerns uncovered last year, Bank of America froze 344,000 claimant accounts and debit cards. However, that move meant that many cases proven to be legitimate remained frozen, and claimants seeking benefits paid the cost for EDD’s lack of plans, the report says.
“At the end of the day, the government has to work for people, and it is so important that right now the government is working for the people,” said Assembly Member Buffy Wicks, D-Oakland. “We have a serious issue that needs to be addressed.”
Wicks’ Assembly Bill 402 aims to offset the obstacles claimants face when seeking benefits with an internal claimant advocate office, along with a Claimant’s Bill of Rights that ensures more protections.
“Really, the whole goal of my bill is to provide an additional vehicle of recourse for so many desperate constituents and folks out in our communities that have been faced with a huge burden,” Wicks said.
Assembly Member David Chiu, D-San Francisco, along with other legislators, is proposing a $55 million budget allocation for a specialized task force at local and state law enforcement agencies to assist with “this mountain of fraud”.
“We know that investing more resources will allow us to go after criminal syndicates, easily recoup these expenses and get money to honest Californians,” Chiu said.
“The introduction of big bills is neither the start nor end of our fight for changes at EDD, and our hope is that the benefits EDD administers can actually be a safety net for all California,” said Daniela Urban, director and founder of the Center for Workers’ Rights.
Other legislation announced this morning includes:
Prison fraud prevention, AB110: Legislation by Assembly member Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, would require EDD to cross-check claims against inmate records. Claims made by incarcerated individuals cost EDD $810 million, according to the audit report.
EDD oversight advisory board, AB400: Also from Petrie-Norris, this legislation would create an exterior board to work with the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and ensure unemployment is working efficiently.
Remove the middleman, AB74: Currently all EDD benefits go through Bank of America. California is only one of three states that prohibits direct deposits. After the series of debit card freezes that prevented Californians from accessing their benefits, Assembly Member Lorena Gonzalez, D-San Diego, thinks constituents should have the option to receive direct deposits if they please.
Allow claimants to fix mistakes on forms, AB397: Assembly Member Chad Mayes, I-Yucca Valley, described EDD applications as “confusing at best and nonsensical at worst.” If a constituent currently makes a mistake on a lengthy application form, they risk losing benefits from 5 to 23 weeks. Mayes hopes this measure can prevent Californians losing benefits due to unintentional errors.
Accessible multilingual support, AB401: Non-English speaking claimants face increasingly difficult obstacles to receive benefits due to a lack of multilingual phone representatives and resources, Chiu says. This proposal would expand translation of applications and increase multilingual phone lines.
Prevent identity theft, AB56: This proposal by Assemblymember Rudy Salas, D-Bakersfield, would prohibit the EDD from disclosing personal information like social security numbers in their letters and correspondence.