SACRAMENTO, Calif. — “I’m terrified. I’m scared. I’m running very very low on money and if we didn’t have my husband’s social security, I don’t know where we’d be right now,” Carly Gordon said.
Gordon is just one of the hundreds of thousands of Californians in a similar position and answers can't come soon enough for people like her, who have been trying to get unemployment benefits since the beginning of the pandemic.
California lawmakers had the opportunity to question the Employment Development Department (EDD) and Bank of America again on Monday in a joint hearing of the Senate Budget subcommittee.
Senator Jim Nielson set the tone from the very beginning of Monday’s hearing.
“I’ve served in the legislature a very long time and I’ve dealt with many dysfunctional agencies, but never one to the disfunction to the degree of EDD,” Nielson said.
Elaine Howle, California State Auditor, said Bank of America, at the direction of EDD, froze 344,000 accounts without having a way to fix them.
"The key issue we had a problem with is when EDD directed Bank of America to freeze those 344,000 accounts, it didn’t have a plan or a method or approach it was going to use to assess all of those accounts and determine which are legitimate claimants and unfreeze those accounts as quickly as possible,” Howle explained.
Bank of America’s Head of Global Connection Services, Faiz Ahmad, said they’re working to address that problem.
"Last week and this week we are discussing an approach to unfreezing cards. Our work on that approach should be completed very soon,” Ahmad said.
Carly Gordon said she’s exhausted and doesn’t know what else she can do.
“There’s got to be some way that I can get help. I guess I just don’t know any other options. I just keep trying to call and call and call,” she explained.
Rita Saenz, the new EDD director, said 184,000 Californians have been unable to access new federal unemployment extensions because their benefits ran out last year.
She said the EDD is updating their system's eligibility rules so that they can process the next phase of benefits for those people because currently, it says they've used up all of their benefits.
Unfortunately, those individuals will still have longer to wait.
“By March 7th, these claimants will be able to certify their eligibility and EDD will be able to successfully process their claims,” Saenz said.
Gordon also said verifying her identity through ID.me has been just as frustrating, if not more so, than dealing with EDD.
“They just get back saying, ‘Oh you just probably need to line up your photos better,’ or something like, stupid. You can’t talk to anybody, just like EDD,” Gordon said.
However, when Nancy Farias, EDD’s Chief Deputy Director, was asked during Monday’s hearing about the wait time at EDD, she characterized it very differently from what many Californians are claiming.
“The current wait time I just got this morning is 8 minutes. It was longer,” Farias said.
Even with that said, for the time being, Gordon, who is still unable to verify her identity on ID.me, continues to wait for relief from EDD.
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