Sen. Laird’s Statement on State Auditor’s Report on EDD’s Failure to Address Decade Old Dysfunction

From State Sen. John Laird (D-Santa Cruz):

“Good morning and thank you for the opportunity to address the joint hearing of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee and the Assembly Committee on Insurance.

I was briefed by the State Auditor on both pieces of this audit. The audits that we have before us on the performance of California’s Employment Development Department are simply damning – there’s no other way to describe it. Unemployment insurance is a primary lifeline government can throw to people when life comes down on them hard. It’s the difference between eating and starving.

As I was sworn in to this office in December, I was keenly aware of the many, many concerns I had heard from people on the Central Coast and from media reports that all was not right with this crucial lifeline program.

Then I began to hear the stories from our constituents as they poured into our district offices.

One woman with a PhD is now living in her car because payments haven’t been made. Plus, her car is about to be repossessed and she’s locked out of her PO Box.

Another is desperate for almost a year’s worth of payments so she can keep a roof over her and her toddler’s head. What’s worse is that her phone might get cut off, which means she can’t check to see if the dozens of emails and calls she’d made to EDD have been returned.

There’s another constituent who is owed nearly $12,000.

And then there is another who is trying to pay thousands of dollars back to the EDD – and a month later his check to them hasn’t cleared!

These anecdotes just scratch the surface. I’m sure each member of this committee has similar stories. The number of unpaid claims, unfairly denied claims, frozen accounts, and fraudulent accounts is stunning. What went wrong and how do we fix it?

I sincerely hope that the EDD take to heart every recommendation within the State Auditor’s report. Make no mistake – you ARE people’s last line of defense against homelessness and hunger. That is a sacred duty you must never lose sight of.

As a legislator, I know – like my colleagues - I will be closely scrutinizing this report for legislative fixes. There are many things to consider – particularly around the rampant fraud and the failures in the system.

For those who are trying to make this audit about the current Administration – the auditor did an audit ten years ago about the same issues. The audit was based on the actions of the administration before last – but was completed at the beginning of last administration. So, this is an issue that spanned three administrations – of governors of both parties -- but it is up to us now to make sure these problems are addressed.

However, I hope for EDD’s executive team, their staff, and the state administration you all redouble your focus not just on trying to clean up this crisis, you also put in place a structure and a culture at the EDD that can do far, far better in the future. Because frankly, this is unacceptable.

Thank you and I apologize for having to leave the hearing.”

(Remarks as prepared)

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