Since the pandemic began, California’s Unemployment Development Department has paid billions of dollars to fraudsters who’ve applied for and received unemployment benefits, while thousands of jobless Californians continue to wait for their applications to be processed.
Now, California lawmakers are coming together to help reform the state’s troubled unemployment agency.
State legislators have introduced a series of bills they hope will help prevent future fraud and speed up the growing backlog of unemployment claims.
California Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, is one of dozens of state lawmakers fed up with what she calls a failed agency.
“The department has lost billions of taxpayer dollars and they have caused heartache for millions of Californians and it is totally unacceptable,” Petrie-Norris said.
Asm. Norris and her colleagues introduced legislation to establish an oversight advisory board to keep EDD accountable and create a direct deposit option for applicants. They also presented a bill that would require the agency to cross-check claimants’ information to help prevent prison fraud.
This morning, my colleagues & I announced a package of new legislation to reform the #EDD.— Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (@AsmCottie) February 4, 2021
As part of this package, I have introduced:
➡️ AB 110: requires the #EDD to cross-check w/ prison records
➡️ AB 400: creates the Unemployment Insurance Oversight Advisory Board#CALeg pic.twitter.com/FVr5QzvepV
“I am pleased that there is new leadership at the department, which is going to be critical, but like everyone I’m really frustrated that the progress continues to be so slow and we need to address operational failings, cultural failings, and failings in our technology as well,” Petrie-Norris added.
Language access is another issue applicants are reporting when it comes to filling out their unemployment forms.
“We know that right now it’s almost impossible to navigate EDD’s application process as an English speaker, and right now the EDD forms application process is only available in English and in Spanish,” Petrie-Norris explained.
A bill introduced by Assemblymember David Chiu would remove this burden by making it easier for the state’s seven million residents who speak a different language than English or Spanish to apply for unemployment benefits.
“We all know during this pandemic, people of color and immigrants have been particularly hard hit, they’re much more likely to work in sectors shut down by this pandemic,” Chiu said.
The legislative package would cost $55 million, which Petrie-Norris explains is only 0.5% of the estimated fraud.
“We know that the return on that investment is going to be huge,” Petrie-Norris said. “We also know that the longer we wait to go after these fraudsters and criminals, the harder it’s going to be to get California taxpayer dollars back, so it’s urgent and we’ve got to get to work on it right now.”
GOP lawmakers are also coming together to address issues with EDD. Senate Republican Leader-Elect Scott Wilk and members of his caucus sent a letter to the governor urging him to take immediate action to help victims of identity theft avoid tax liabilities for benefits they never received.
BREAKING—CA Sen. Republicans delivered a letter today to @GavinNewsom to take immediate action on the looming tax tsunami facing unsuspecting and unemployed Californians stemming from mismanagement and fraud in the @CA_EDD @IRSnews https://t.co/OZ85PPhziz pic.twitter.com/MoSbNVYiuI— Scott Wilk (@ScottWilkCA) February 2, 2021
The EDD reform bills introduced by the Democrats are set to be heard in mid-March. If passed and signed by Gov. Newsom, Petrie-Norris says they will become law as early as April.