On Thursday, a new bill was introduced in the Assembly that would require the Employment Development Department to check benefit applications against prisoner incarceration records.
Assembly Bill 110, authored by Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach), would cross-check all EDD benefit application recipients with California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) prison records. This would be added to it’s current fraud prevention efforts and would be applied immediately after approval from both houses and being signed by the Governor.
“The government must do a better job as custodian of our hard-earned tax payer dollars,” said Assemblywoman Petrie-Norris in a statement on Thursday. “AB 110 will enable EDD to implement basic business processes so these outrageous failings aren’t repeated.”
AB 110 was written primarily as a response to recent fraud cases in the EDD. Last month, it was revealed that the EDD had sent millions in benefits to prisoners and inmates since the COVID-19 pandemic began in March, resulting in one of the largest cases of fraud in EDD history. Earlier this month it was calculated that the fraud had cost the state $400 million in total, on top of $2 billion in other forms of fraud used against the EDD this year.
If passed, California would become the 36th state to cross check unemployment benefit data with incarceration records.
“This was such a glaring issue, but it had o take something big to really enact change,” Sean Paxton, a former prison guard who now assists former prisoners reintegrate into society, explained to the Globe. “It had never really been tried to this scale, because usually there are far less applicants. But once COVID-19 hit and everyone put in applications, they seemed to streamline everyone and didn’t look as close as they would have to pass benefits usually. And since they don’t check inmates, and because they didn’t have the usual time for a more thorough check, they were passed.”
“If there had been a law like this bill on the books at the beginning of the year, it would have been one of those ‘must check’ parts, and we wouldn’t have seen prisoners do this. But it wasn’t, so it happened.”
“Former prisoners who served their time should get the benefit of the doubt back in the world. They deserve another shot. But we shouldn’t let fraud stand.”
AB 110 is expected to be passed quicker than usual because of the urgency of change due to the recent scandal. The bill is expected to go to committee soon.