Faced with criticism from many Californians who were left jobless during the COVID-19 pandemic, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Tuesday approved a package of bills aimed at reducing delays and fraud in the state’s unemployment benefits system.
The law was signed less than a month after Newsom feared a revocation attempt, in which those who tried to remove him pointed to problems, including long waits for unemployment benefits for hundreds of thousands of unemployed Californians.
State Employment Development executives admitted they have been overwhelmed by the flood of nearly 24 million benefit claims since the pandemic began early last year. Although the agency paid out more than $ 175 billion in benefits, it admitted it later found that at least $ 11 billion had been paid in fraudulent claims.
Newsom on Tuesday signed five EDD-related bills, including Assembly Bill 56, which requires the agency to follow the recommendations of recent government audits, which include creating a plan to expedite benefits.
MP Rudy Salas (Bakersfield State )’s bill also requires EDD to assist claimants affected by identity theft and set up a new office to coordinate anti-fraud efforts.
Salas said the new law makes it clear to EDD that “reforms are needed right now. We are working hard to protect taxpayers, stop fraud, improve the grievance process, and hold EDD accountable. ”
Newsom has previously taken steps to modernize EDD and expedite claims processing, including the appointment last year of a strike team of government efficiency experts who recommended sweeping changes.
However, lawmakers said more needs to be done.
The governor also signed into law Assembly Act 110, which requires the state prison department to provide EDD with personal identification information about inmates so that it can be matched against unemployment claims.
Assemblyman Cottie Petri-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) said her move is needed to bring the requirement into law after EDD paid out about $ 810 million in benefits for tens of thousands of claims filed against prisoners, including convicted murderers. after death. row.
The new law, she said, “will allow EDD to implement basic business processes so that unemployment funds go to those who desperately need them, and not to scammers trying to make extra money.”
Newsom also signed Senate Bill 390, which requires EDD to develop and update plans to quickly respond to future economic downturns, such as the one caused by the pandemic.
Senator John Laird, a Santa Cruz Democrat, said the new law he wrote will ensure that EDD has a recession plan “that will serve as a roadmap for what to do in times of great need.”
The governor also signed into law Assembly Act 397, which requires EDD to give advance notice to Unemployment Insurance claimants when a claim is dismissed, including the reason for the denial, and to allow the person concerned to challenge the decision.
“With increased clarity and the right to treatment, we can prevent Californians from getting benefits when they need them most from being blocked,” said MP Chad Mays (I-Rancho Mirage), who wrote the measure.
Newsom also signed the Assembly Act 12, which requires EDD, no later than 2023, to end the practice of mailing social security numbers to applicants and others, where they can be intercepted by identity thieves.
Assemblyman Kelly Seyarto (R-Murrieta) said the law he wrote is necessary to “protect Californians from all departments and agencies that may be following the same methods and jeopardizing the identities of millions of Californians.”