EDD faces tough questions at hearing as unemployment backlog grows

California's Employment Development Department was called on the legislative carpet as more claims come in and the once shrinking backlog of old claims grows again.

EDD's long-term backlog: 900,000 plus claims. Assemblyman Mike Gipson (D-Gardena) is having none of it.

"The people of the state of California are pissed off and so are we," said Assemblyman Gipson.

A joint Assembly/Senate hearing focused on EDD's continuing problems and the latest State Auditor's Report.

"We need to have a plan in place that considers when we have a surge in claims. How are we going to address that?" said California State Auditor Eileen Howle.

EDD has had a decade and billions of dollars to modernize itself and improve services, knowing full well that more recessions would come.

The audit found that the EDD call center still needs a lot of work and that many claims processors don't have all the knowledge they need. And, EDD can't strike the balance between preventing fraud, getting people paid and accounts unfrozen.

"About $810 million has been paid out on claims that are associated with an individual that is incarcerated," said Ms. Howle. "We saw no clear or consistent point of contact for who would be communicating with Bank of America, which I think also contributes to the lack of preparedness and planning address frozen back accounts in a timely fashion," said Principal Auditor Bob Harris.

The are many recommendations, but far fewer accomplishments.

"They have not made any substantive progress to fully implement any of them," said Mr. Harris. "That's very disheartening to me because with all the (expletive) that's going on with EDD, to put it blank, you know, they should be, you know, Johnny on the Spot taking all of the State Auditor's recommendations," said Assemblyman Gipson.

The new director, Rita Saenz, appointed last month, bears little or no meaningful responsibility for EDD's past failures. But, she assured the committee she will do what the Strike Team and State Auditor have recommended.

"I'm not big on a lot of plans. I'm big on getting action. I have three priorities; getting claimants paid, preventing fraud and restructuring the department to be effective and responsive. We're accelerating changes wherever we can as our current customer services are simply unacceptable," said Saenz.

Since EDD's rules have not been seriously reviewed for 18 years, Governor Newsom bears some responsibility, but so do his predecessors: governors Gray Davis, Arnold Schwarzenegger and Jerry Brown.