More than 150,000 California workers who have lost their jobs since 2020 are still fighting for delayed or denied unemployment benefits. At the same time, the state paid an estimated $30 billion in fraudulent claims, more than any other state on a real and per capita basis.
The state fund that supports unemployed workers is more than $18 billion in debt, with no recovery in sight.
With an unemployment system so clearly in crisis, one might expect lawmakers to spend the last days of this month’s legislative session focused on strengthening the Department of Economic Development. Employment, which administers California’s unemployment system.
Instead, they make it worse.
After a fierce lobbying blitz, lawmakers approved unemployment grants to a new category of beneficiaries: striking workers. The move was a dramatic departure from the program created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt through the Social Security Act of 1935, which was intended to relieve economic hardship for workers who lost their jobs through self-employment. wrong.
New responsibilities are obviously the last thing the EDD needs. In her recent book, “Re-Coding America,” former Obama administration official Jen Pahlka details how badly the agency collapsed three years ago. Lawmakers will remember how their offices were flooded with calls from thousands of constituents desperate to get their unemployment benefits and not go through the EDD.
Perhaps more troubling, the EDD doesn’t even know how big the backlog is: The agency estimates 239,000 cases. In fact it is five times that amount.
Another recession is still possible. A recent Wall Street Journal poll of economists put the chances of a recession in the next 12 months at more than 50-50. Now is the time to create a system capable of providing unemployment benefits to unemployed people. It’s about obstruction and confrontation – the most basic function of government for the people. This is not the time to make new dirty games.
Although California’s unemployment system is in good shape, this law will break troubling new ground. California has a fairly supportive unemployment system, where even workers who quit their jobs can receive unemployment benefits if they have a good reason for leaving, and all reasonable efforts are made to keep the job. The new legislation, Senate Bill 799, has no provision to evaluate whether there is a reason to strike. If signed, any strike will be a good strike. But history makes it clear that although the strike is a critical tool for workers to assert their rights, it is also sometimes abused by labor leaders focused on their own power and prestige.
With the legislative session jockeying behind us, all eyes are on the governor. Unlike the Legislature, he does not have the luxury of pandering to narrow interests in the face of harsh fiscal realities. He has used his veto pen accordingly in recent years, including tough choices like denying unemployment benefits to undocumented workers last year.
If the state cannot afford to extend unemployment benefits to those doing unfair and counterproductive work in the fields, we should think twice before giving such benefits to people who have jobs waiting. them.
To gauge what Californians think about this policy, we need to consider the hundreds of thousands of low- and middle-income workers who have left California in recent years. They missed out on the two states that provide unemployment insurance for striking workers (New York and New Jersey). Instead, they leave for states with lower housing costs, better schools and less poverty.
If we’d like some commentary on what workers closer to home think about the priorities of our unemployment system, however, the EDD has the names of 150,000 Californians it’s likely happy to share. their opinions.
Guest Comment written by Scott Syphax. The California Legislature this month sent a bill to Gov. Gavin Newsom that, if he signs it, will provide unemployment benefits to striking workers. On page 3, a Hollywood writer says that California workers who helped pay for the state’s unemployment insurance fund are entitled to benefits if they act for equal pay and working conditions.