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Fixing California's Unemployment System: What Lawmakers Are Pushing For

(Chava Sanchez/LAist)
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After nearly a year of widespread benefit delays and billions of dollars in fraudulent payments, California’s unemployment department could soon undergo a series of reforms.

State lawmakers proposed a raft of legislative fixes for the Employment Development Department (EDD) today, including:

  • The creation of a new office to advocate for claimants
  • Allowing claimants to fix honest mistakes on certification forms before locking them out of the system
  • A requirement that claims be cross-checked with incarceration records to avoid fraudulent payments to prisoners
  • A requirement to provide services in languages other than English and Spanish
  • An option for claimants to bypass Bank of America and instead receive benefits through direct deposit

Lawmakers said their offices have become de facto unemployment benefit help lines, as scores of jobless Californians have found it impossible to reach EDD about problems with their claims.
“Every day, my colleagues and I hear from thousands of desperate Californians who are in dire straits,” said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach). “And for months, this desperation has been met by a seemingly disinterested EDD bureaucracy.”

Berkeley unemployment recipient Laurel Carter said her benefits were cut off in December, when EDD suspended 1.4 million claims across the state. Like others caught up in the department’s anti-fraud efforts, she’s been unable to complete a third-party identity verification process through EDD’s subcontractor

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“I'm now six weeks in without any payment [or] any response from,” Carter said. “I've had to borrow money from my family and friends.”

At the same time many have struggled to restart their claims, the department has come under fire for delivering at least $11 billion in payments to fraudsters.

During a press call about the reform bills, Assemblyman David Chiu (D-San Francisco) said lawmakers will call for $55 million in new funding to help local and state law enforcement agencies prosecute unemployment benefit fraud.

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