California Assemblymembers Unveil Unemployment Benefits Reform Package
Thursday, February 4, 2021
Photo by Rich Pedroncelli / AP
Since the pandemic began, unemployment benefits in California have been interrupted by improper distribution and fraudulent claims.
On Thursday, state legislators announced plans to reform California’s unemployment benefits system.
Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez (D-Chula Vista) along with Assemblymembers Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Huntington Beach) and David Chiu (D-San Francisco), on Monday, introduced Assembly Bill 74, to expand options for people to receive their benefits in forms other than Bank of America debit cards.
She said the state’s Employment Development Department has been grappling with numerous challenges, including bureaucratic inefficiencies, problematic vendor relationships and widespread fraud.
“The problem with everybody going through Bank of America is if you're not a customer at Bank of America, they have no responsibility to be accommodating to your concerns about your card being frozen, or fraud or not receiving your card," she said.
Gonzalez’s bill was just one of many EDD reform proposals brought to the table by nine California Assemblymembers.
“They should continue to be able to have that direct deposit," Gonzalez said. "Cut out the middleman if they so choose. If they chose to have the Bank of America debit card, that's fine. And if they choose to have a paper check, they should be able to have that choice as well.”
Since March of 2020, the EDD has processed more than 19 million claims and paid more than $114 billion in benefits.
$11 billion went to people who didn't verify their identity, which the department says is likely fraud. And $4.1 million Californians may have to pay back some or all of the benefits they received due to a lack of eligibility screenings during the beginning of the pandemic.
“We’re going to take care of fraud. That's a long term issue. But right now, people who are needing that money to pay rent, to put food on the table, that's my number one concern,” Gonzalez said.
The nine assembly members agreed that a long-term solution to reform the EDD would require an update to the computer system, which currently uses technology from the 1980s.
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