The Employment Development Department (EDD) has been mired in crisis for more than a year now. The massive backlog in unemployment claim processing hasn’t really budged, millions of daily calls go unanswered, fraud is rampant -- estimated at $11 to $31 billion, and appeals can take over three months; the failure list is long.
There’s plenty of blame to go around too. Former Governor Jerrry Brown ignored a 2011 audit that pointed out EDD’s shortcomings, and new directives from the Governor have proven to be inadequate and ineffective. So, what can be done to fix this mess?
I recently met with newly appointed EDD Director Rita Saenz to discuss these issues. Naturally, she is attempting to make needed changes, something that’s always difficult during an ongoing crisis. She needs help, and for our part, the Legislature is stepping up. I have introduced AB 24, which will ensure that EDD claimants receive decisions about their applications within 30 days. I’ve also joined Senator John Laird (D – Santa Cruz) to co-author SB 390, which requires EDD to prepare and implement comprehensive plans for increased benefit claims during recessions. Other legislation will establish better oversight and accountability at EDD, along with stringent anti-fraud measures, including requiring EDD to stop posting full social security numbers in mailings to claimants. And benefits would be made available by direct deposit, instead of through insecure debit cards.
Thousands of businesses have shut down, many permanently, and millions of workers are unemployed due to state-mandated closures. The inability of EDD to meet its responsibilities and provide timely unemployment benefits is unconscionable. Legislative fixes work, but even bi-partisan bills take months to pass and more months to be implemented. EDD needs to be fixed now, but only the Governor can take immediate action regarding agencies under his direct authority.