SACRAMENTO, Calif — California lawmakers held a hearing today to question both the Employment Development Department (EDD) and Bank of America for the first time since the pandemic began. They came armed with questions inspired by the stories of numerous constituents struggling through problems involving both organizations.
Amaker Lee, 34, said she’s been getting the runaround from EDD since the pandemic began, then as soon as was able to get payments, she got the runaround from Bank of America for another couple of months.
"The last straw was going to Bank of America (and) being told I couldn't do certain things I was told I could do,” Lee said. “Them telling me to go to my actual bank. My actual bank telling me my card was frozen and didn't work. Me not being able to call Bank of America and being on hold for multiple hours and then, on top of it, not being able to connect with anyone directly at EDD."
Amaker is just one of the hundreds of thousands of Californians caught up in the back and forth between EDD and Bank of America.
Today, they both organizations got a grilling from lawmakers like Assembly member Wendy Carillo.
"My office like many of the members that are here today have heard from people whose accounts have been frozen, who are living in motels, and desperately in need of help,” Carillo said. “They don't need 30 days to wait. They don't have 30 days to wait."
For the first time today, the public learned who made the decision to freeze the accounts of 1.4 million people.
"That was made by EDD executive leadership, including myself, to put the stop pay on those cards," said Nancy Farias, a chief deputy director with EDD.
She said EDD has been using a new layer of fraud protection provided by the company Thomson Reuters.
"It was through our fraud filter. It was not ID.me. So it was through Thomson Reuters, our fraud filter," Farias said.
Carol Williams, another chief deputy director with EDD, got emotional when talking about the decision to freeze so many accounts.
"We bear the pain of the innocent claimants in that 1.4 (million). It was a data driven decision,” Williams said, apparently fighting back tears. “We finally have comprehensive data analysis on suspected fraud in our inventory. It was absolutely on the eve of the federal program being extended and if we didn't take action more of the same, victimization of innocent people would have occurred."
It was also revealed for the first time today, just how many people are unable to use their Bank of America cards.
"As of today, there are approximately 450,000 cards that are still frozen," said Faiz Ahmad with Bank of America.
ABC10 has heard from a number of viewers detailing the hours and hours they’ve spent on the phone trying to get information from EDD and Bank of America. However, the reported wait times were characterized differently at the hearing.
"The wait times at our call centers are one minute with the tail being between one and five minutes," Ahmad said.
"The wait times have finally started to decrease,” Williams added. “So the longest I saw recently is 2 to 3 hours. Yes, that is long, but it was twice that."
Assembly member Phil Ting was quick to point out that those facts contradicted the stories from his constituents.
"What you said absolutely does not in any way or shape does not reflect the experience shaped by the constituents that have called my office," said Assembly member Ting.