LOS ANGELES (KABC) -- California state lawmakers are aiming a slew of new bills at the state's broken and fraud-ridden unemployment agency following a scathing state audit report and hearing.
"If this was an exam it would have gotten a big fail," said Assemblyman Miguel Santiago (D- Los Angeles).
Frustrated by the Employment Development Department's failures, lawmakers hope to reform the agency to tackle a range of issues and help edibility claimants get access to their benefits.
"I know it is something I am entitled to and its not something I like to live on. Nobody likes to live on unemployment, but something that is needed at this moment in time and I'm baffled by their lack of response," said Yucca Valley resident Adam Gordon.
The pandemic led to a 300% increase in unemployment claims and opened the door to criminals who made $11 billion in fraudulent claims. The EDD's action to curb fraud caused innocent victims to have their benefits stolen, claims denied or frozen in limbo.
Among the measures proposed, an Office of the Claimant Advocate with the EDD to help claimants with issues along with a claimant bill of rights. It's a step in the right direction for claimants like Gordon who says he's logged over 300 calls to EDD trying to get his case resolved.
"There have been days where I have called them 50 times in a day and it is to no avail. It could drive a person insane," said Gordon.
Yucca Valley Assemblyman Chad Mayes proposed bill would streamline EDD's online forms and the ability for applicants to fix mistakes made filling them out.
"We are focused on clarifying and simplifying the maze of forms individuals must navigate to keep their benefits by providing a clear right to fix unintentional mistakes. Californian's will not be unnecessarily denied to have help when they need it most," said Mayes.
The EDD will also be made by law to follow all recommendation set forth in a state auditor's report. Another proposed bill would help claimants determine how they receive benefits. California is one of only three states in the entire country that does not allow unemployment payment to be direct deposited.
"All EDD payments have to go through Bank of America makes no sense. Our constituents should be able to get their payment on paper check if they want or directly deposited into their own bank," said Assemblywoam Lorena Gonzalez (D- San Diego)
Assemblymember David Chiu proposed a bill to expand language access noting the unemployment agency has a forms in English and Spanish. Chiu is also proposing a $55-million law enforcement task force to target EDD fraud.
"It is comparable to specialized fraud programs that target auto insurance fraud, disability and healthcare fraud, and workers compensation and insurance fraud, quiet simply we need to get to the bottom of this," said Chiu (D-San Francisco).
All the proposed bills will have to go through the committee process and be approved by the legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom.