Series of bills aim to reform California's Employment Development Department

EDD office.jpg
Posted at 4:47 PM, Feb 04, 2021
and last updated 2021-02-04 20:19:06-05

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- State lawmakers are introducing more than half-a-dozen bills to reform the Employment Development Department, which they say botched unemployment claims during the pandemic.

The bills would allow claimants to bypass Bank of America and get their money direct deposited, create an oversight board, a claimant advocate office, expand language options, protect against fraud, and create more safety nets.

“The most important thing is that our constituents have money to be able to pay the rent, to be able to put food on the table, to be able to live during these very challenging times,” said Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, a Democrat of the 80th district.

But fixes are coming too little, too late for millions of Californians.

Jacob Nikos, a South Park resident, called the EDD nearly 15 times in one day before he got through to anyone who could verify his identity and restart his payments in January.

At the time, his bank account was in the negative.

“I felt nervous, like I just didn't even think I was going to get anything,” he said Thursday. “I’m a bartender, I should have savings, trust me, but when you've been off for eight months you kind of don't have one of those.”

Nikos is now back to work at five days a week at Eppig Brewing.

But the issues at the EDD persist. That's why state lawmakers on Thursday announced seven bills to try to reform the agency.

The package comes in the wake of a scathing audit that showed the EDD sent $800 million in fraudulent benefits to 45,000 incarcerated individuals, and coordinated with Bank of America to freeze 344,000 accounts, with no plan to assist legitimate claims.

“I've had to borrow money from my family and friends, luckily, to keep my rent, keep my car in front of my house and I just need some answers,” said Laurel Carter, a Berkeley resident who lost her job in the medical field.

Two legislators are also prioritizing $55 million in this year's budget proposal to expand state and local fraud investigations.

The EDD did not immediately issue a response to the legislators.

In a statement, Bank of America said it supports the direct deposit option, and is working with the state to prevent fraud and ensure the correct claimants get their money.