Since March, my office has been helping everyday Californians deal with the incompetence at the state’s unemployment department. The state has delayed benefits, lost documents, put citizens at risk of identity theft, and for months was not even answering the phone. The negligence by the Newsom administration hurt jobless Californians who desperately needed help after the governor forced businesses to close. While unemployed Californians couldn’t even lawfully obtain benefits, Gov. Newsom’s administration somehow allowed fraud to run rampant so that rapists, murderers and death row inmates could receive benefits.
Just as I have helped Californians navigate the bureaucracy occurring at this department, I am now introducing legislation to ensure the mistakes made by this department can never happen again and am supporting efforts to hold these criminals accountable.
Among the criminals in state prison who received unemployment checks include Scott Peterson, who murdered his wife and unborn son, and Cary Stayner, who brutally murdered a woman, two girls and a coworker. Kern County District Attorney Cynthia Zimmer, who is among those working hard to hold these criminals accountable, said her office has already discovered about $16 million in fraudulent claims in our county alone. Statewide, Bank of America has signaled that unemployment fraud could total $2 billion of our taxpayer dollars, including $1 billion in inmate fraud and $1 billion in fraud by those living outside of California.
It wasn't like these felons were even outsmarting the Employment Development Department. They were using their prison address as their current location, obviously fake social security numbers such as "123-45-6789" and outrageous names such as “Poopy Britches.” The lack of fraud prevention and inaction from the state was beyond incompetent.
To make matters worse, the governor’s administration was warned about the potential for fraud months prior and told to take action to prevent it. Yet last week when the governor was asked about the fraud, he responded by saying that he was "deeply alarmed" at these “bad actors,” and has appointed yet another useless task force to coordinate a state investigation.
Fraud at the EDD was discovered in August. His administration was told to take action to prevent it months prior, yet the governor’s task force has only now started working — nearly four months after the fraud was first discovered. The unfortunate truth is that the state’s inability to adequately respond to this mess has now placed a potential $2 billion screw-up on the backs of our already struggling businesses. Too little, too late, governor.
Republicans are here to fix the EDD mess left behind by a one-party rule in California. I have joined several district attorneys from around the state in urging the governor to provide sufficient support to their offices so they can properly investigate and prosecute the high number of EDD cases. Considering the negligence that brought about this mess was caused by Newsom’s own administration, he should be supporting these investigations in any manner possible.
I have also introduced Senate Bill 39 to mandate the state cross-check unemployment claims against state prison records. This is a practice already used by 35 other states that keeps felons like Peterson and Stayner from collecting government benefits. The EDD has claimed it could not cross-match prisoners' identification with unemployment claims because the state corrections department cannot release inmates' personal information, like Social Security numbers. This has to change.
In April, my Republican colleagues and I warned the governor about the soon to be failures of the EDD. Since then, we have continually stepped up to demand answers, request audits, introduce legislation, and hold this department accountable.
Our taxpayers and employers who are on the hook for this fraud deserve nothing less than immediate action and if the Governor is going to continue to punt, Republicans will be right around the corner to hold him accountable.
Sen. Shannon Grove represents California’s 16th Senate District and is the Senate Republican Leader.