Cottie Petrie-Norris

More than sixty California legislators issue letter calling for systemic reforms at EDD

Sixty-one California lawmakers sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom advocating for immediate and structural reforms at the state’s Employment Development Department (EDD). Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, EDD has displayed a shocking inability to disperse unemployment benefits as millions of Californians struggle without income. (Full Letter Attached)

“I am totally dismayed by EDD’s lack of straight answers and the bottom line is we’re not going to let EDD get away with failing Californians,” commented Assembly Accountability and Administrative Review Chair Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach). “My colleagues and I are pushing EDD to rapidly upgrade their customer service and technology to better serve Californians amidst this crisis.”

VIDEO: Budget Committee Oversight Hearing (Subcommittee No. 4 On State Administration) on the Employment Development Department (EDD), AssemblywomanPetrie-Norris questions EDD Director Sharon Hilliard.

“Millions of our constituents have had no income for months,” the lawmakers noted in the letter. “As Californians wait for answers from EDD, they have depleted their life savings, have gone into extreme debt, and are in deep panic as they figure out how to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. Every hour, we field countless calls from constituents reaching out to us as a last resort, after weeks of dead ends and misinformation from EDD.”

This letter comes as EDD revealed for the first time last week that 1.13 million claims have yet to be paid. The agency plans to resolve 239,000 of those claims by the end of September but has no plan to address the remaining 899,000 claims, which require more information from the applicants. This effectively deprioritizes approximately two percent of California’s population, leaving these people without a plan to resolve claims, without benefits, and for many, entirely without income.

Governor Gavin Newsom recently announced the formation of a “strike team” to create a blueprint to solve EDD’s technological challenges. Lawmakers asked that in addition to formulating a plan to transform EDD’s technology systems and customer service, the strike team assess solutions to EDD’s bureaucratic inefficiencies more broadly. They called on the Governor to give the strike team authority to overrule the small circle of longstanding EDD leadership who have stood in the way of change and transparency.

Additionally, the lawmakers asked the Governor to work with the Legislature to pass a budget trailer bill that requires EDD to publicly report key metrics on a weekly basis. Based on past precedent, they also called on the Governor to order the agency to begin awarding benefits immediately and allow for retroactive certification, given how many claimants are stuck in EDD review processes due to agency incompetence and technological failures.

Legislators advocated for a number of reforms to address the notoriously problematic EDD call centers. Constituents report having to call hundreds of times before they are connected to a call center agent. When they are connected to an agent, typically the agent is unable to help resolve their claim as EDD only has 100 trained claim specialists working on the phones. In particularly worrisome instances, constituents are given wrong information, are told to contact their legislator for assistance, or are even hung up on by the agent.

EDD has had an especially close and troublesome relationship with contractor Deloitte, which has bungled projects and failed to create adequate web-based systems to meet the needs of the public. The letter calls for vendor reform and accountability.

As EDD applicants are routinely held up in nightmarish bureaucratic processes like identification verification review and weeks pending certification, lawmakers proposed several short-term and long-term fixes that could help alleviate the myriad of issues standing in the way of constituents receiving benefits.

This article was released by the Office of Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris.