Sacramento - As the first order of business in the new legislative session, Senators Scott Wilk, representing the 21st Senate District and Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) introduced bipartisan legislation to protect the identities of individuals applying for unemployment benefits.
Senate Bill 58 (SB 58) would require that the Employment Development Department immediately end the practice of including full social security numbers on its most frequently mailed documents. Local Assemblymembers Suzette Valladares (R-Santa Clarita) and Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) coauthored the measure, as did Senators Patricia Bates (R-Laguna Niguel) and Anna Caballero (D- Salinas Valley).
“In this day and age it is inconceivable that any government agency would include an individual’s most important personal information on unsecure correspondence. But, as we have learned the past year, little about EDD is modern or functional,” said Wilk. “The State’s Auditor recommended this be done back in 2019 and we learned in a recent Auditor report it had not. Bureaucratic malaise is no excuse for putting people’s identity at risk. Unemployment fraud scams are rampant and this bill will force EDD to take the appropriate steps to end this practice.”
"EDD's incompetence and utter mismanagement has kept food off the table for millions of unemployed Californians, including many here in our community,” added Valladares. "Even worse, they continue to jeopardize their financial security by needlessly exposing their personal and financial information. I’m proud to co-author this legislation that will force EDD to end this dangerous practice immediately."
Last month a group of California’s District Attorneys sounded the alarm on the extent of the fraud and unemployment scams at EDD, stating it could be “the most significant fraud on the taxpayers in California’s history. The federal government warned the Newsom administration in the spring that the dysfunction at EDD put it at high risk for fraud, yet the agency continued to include social security numbers on correspondence. In subsequent weeks, legislative offices began to receive calls from constituents about letters requesting personal information or unemployment debt cards arriving at incorrect address. In some instances as many as 40 letter addressed to different individuals would arrive at an address – a seemingly clear indicator of fraud.
“The Newsom administration’s mismanagement of EDD over the course of the pandemic is staggering. You’d think after putting millions of Californians out of work, the governor would have had prioritized fixing any problems with the agency that came to his attention, but he didn’t,” said Wilk. “It gives me zero confidence they have taken the necessary steps to protect people’s identities.”
In April, Wilk and other legislators warned Governor Newsom about the failures of the EDD after hundreds of thousands of jobless Californians reached out to legislative offices seeking help with their unemployment claims. Click here to read April EDD letter.
In June, Wilk and colleagues asked for an independent audit of the EDD through the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC). Democratic members of JLAC canceled a crucial hearing in August, which would have been an opportunity to review the EDD audit request. Signed by Republican members from both the Assembly and Senate, the letter to JLAC is a bicameral effort to demand answers from EDD. Click here to read the JLAC letter.
In July, Senators Wilk and Melissa Hurtado (D-Sanger) sent a letter to Governor Newsom asking that he staff EDD 24/7 to help clear the backlog. Click here to read the Wilk/Hurtado letter.
In August, a bipartisan coalition of legislators delivered another letter to the Governor demanding that he take action to improve EDD operations. Click here to read August EDD letter.
In August, San Mateo Sheriffs arrest 21 people on massive unemployment fraud scheme using inmates.
In September, members of JLAC approved an audit of the EDD. Click here to read JLAC approval letter.
In October, EDD unilaterally freezes 350,000 debit cards because of a variety of fraud indicators, including a high number of claims at a single address. It wasn't clear how much the debit cards were worth, but law enforcement officials say they've uncovered fake cards amounting to $20,000 each.
In late November, District Attorneys announced a major fraud scheme operating in and around California’s prisons projecting at least $140 million dollars has been paid out to some inmates and their accomplices, so far. In December that estimate jumped to $1 billion.