(CALMATTERS) – By now, the failures of California’s Employment Development Department during the pandemic have been well-publicized: $32 billion lost to fraud, 5 million workers with delayed payments, as many as 1 million people wrongly denied unemployment benefits and 150,000 workers stuck in an appeals backlog.
To a former U.S. deputy chief technology officer hired by Newsom to analyze EDD’s shortcomings, the whole debacle served as a prime example of a broken government bureaucracy.
As CalMatters’ investigative reporter Lauren Hepler explains, Jennifer Pahlka is a founder of Code For America and co-led the Strike Team that Newsom created in 2020 to evaluate the EDD’s long benefit delays and high incidence of fraud. In her new book Recoding America, Pahlka says incompatible regulations and flawed oversight contributed to the department’s dysfunction.
“The bureaucratic confusion ultimately lands on the people,” Pahlka wrote.
EDD’s mishandling of pandemic-era unemployment benefits was brought to light again last week, during a hearing of the U.S. House Committee on Education and the Workforce. At the nearly three-hour meeting, Rep. Kevin Kiley, a Rocklin Republican, asked former California labor chief Julie Su if she accepted “any responsibility” for the fraud that “occurred on your watch in California?” President Joe Biden has nominated Su as the U.S. Labor Secretary, which Republican lawmakers strongly oppose.
“I certainly know that I and many of my colleagues, and others that sat in the same position that I did when the pandemic hit, wish that we had a system that was capable of meeting the need,” Su replied.
The department, which declined to comment for Hepler’s story, has been working on fixing some of the problems. It has contracted with third-party companies for services, including call center support and an online identity verification system. It also is working on another tech modernization project called EDDNext.