SACRAMENTO, Calif. — The year 2020 hasn't been forgiving for Evan Veiga.
"Barely, barely scraping by," he said.
Veiga has had to rely on unemployment benefits since losing two restaurant serving jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic. And just hours before what he hoped would be a new and better year, he noticed his Employment Development Department (EDD) account was pending.
To his surprise, he was able to get ahold of someone at the EDD on the phone.
"For the first time since March I was able to get in touch with someone [Thursday] at 4 p.m.," Veiga said. "I mean I've called hundreds, thousands of times."
He said the EDD representative informed him his account was suspended because they suspected him of "fraudulent activity." The kicker was right at midnight, he received this in writing via email from the EDD.
"My heart dropped [in] my chest immediately," Veiga said. "It was probably the scariest thing I've ever experienced. I mean my bills have been building up for months now."
And he is not alone. On New Year's Day, ABC10 received calls and messages from people throughout California who rely on unemployment benefits saying the same thing as Veiga: their benefits have been suspended due to fraudulent activity.
EDD addressed the suspensions on Twitter on Sunday, basically telling people to wait for more details. "As part of ongoing efforts to fight fraud, EDD has suspended payment on claims considered high risk and is informing those affected that their identity will need to be verified starting this week before payments can resume," EDD tweeted. "More details on the EDD website in the days ahead."
"I've seen at this point several hundred comments and posts just on Facebook alone," Jesus Arroyo Romero said.
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Arroyo Romero has been following the confusion online since he and his family received the EDD email. He said he received it Friday morning, but hasn't used his benefits for months since he was re-employed.
"I found that really strange," he said.
He also noted a family member using employment benefits recently verified her identity, but still received the email saying her account was suspended.
"[She] submitted an ID verification three months ago when they asked for it, so it's really strange it's coming up again," Arroyo Romero said.
In their email, the EDD said to fix this issue you'll need to verify your identity but don't give directions on how to do so. It said to simply wait until Jan. 6, 2021... five days from the day the email was sent.
"All of [a] sudden they think you're a fraud. But here I am. Here's my face. How can I show you? Do you want me to give blood?" Veiga said. "I'll give anything, just give me the chance."
The timing is especially bad as the EDD is closed the day they sent out the email for New Year's Day and it's Jan. 1, when rent is due. For those worried about paying rent, California Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez tweeted advice, saying to inform your landlord in writing that you're delayed in paying because of COVID.
This is because of the California Eviction Moratorium, which will protect renters who can't make rent due to COVID until Jan. 31, 2021.
ABC10 reached out to other California leaders asking for answers including Gov. Gavin Newsom's office and, of course, EDD. We will continue to update this story with the latest.
If you have a question about unemployment or EDD, text the Dollars and Sense team at 916-321-3310.
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