04.08.21 California advances bill aimed at massive unemployment fraud

Excerpted from the Los Angeles Times

By Don Thompson

California lawmakers on Thursday advanced what they called common sense legislation requiring two state agencies to share information aimed at helping stop billions of dollars in pandemic-related unemployment fraud.

The measure that cleared its first committee would require the beleaguered Employment Development Department to crosscheck unemployment applications with inmate records to identify fraudulent claims.

State officials approved at least $810 million in the names of roughly 45,000 inmates, some of them on death row, according to a state audit in January that put the toll at more than double the amount previously reported by the state. Investigators say overall fraud losses will top at least $11 billion.

California law restricts the inmate information that can be shared with other state agencies, but officials said the unemployment agency now has an agreement with the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation that allows the two entities to more broadly share information.

But that came too late, said Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), who proposed the legislation.

She is an outspoken critic of the department, which also has struggled with ongoing backlogs in getting money to people who lost their jobs during the pandemic. The issue has dogged her fellow Democrat, Gov. Gavin Newsom, who is likely to face a recall election this year.

“This is a simple, common sense step” to address “one of the most egregious examples of the department’s failings,” said Petrie-Norris.