LOS ANGELES (CBSLA) — Automated identification verification has been touted as one of the ways to address the massive problem with fraudulent unemployment benefit claims, but is it actually causing even more problems for people desperate for their benefits?
CBS2 investigator Kristine Lazar was the first local reporter to expose the rampant fraud in our area. Now she’s looking into the latest controversy to hit the California Employment Development Department.READ MORE: Authorities Find Silvia Ochoa De Hernandez, Woman Who Went Missing In South Gate
Alice Green, who has worked at the same travel company for 26 years, said she has been waiting more than two months for her unemployment benefits to be reinstated.
“Some days I am so angry I am ready to cry,” she said.
Jason Rowlen said he has been waiting since October.
“You are stranded and left alone,” he said. “There is nowhere to turn, no one to talk to. I am talking to you — that’s about all I got.”
Local server Terri Lake — who just went back to work last week — has more than $6,000 sitting in her EDD account, but she can’t access the money.
“If I could just get my money, I could pay my bills,” she said.
Lake was one of the fraud victims CBS Los Angeles featured in an investigation last month that found Bank of America, which issues the EDD debit cards, was not refunding the stolen money.
“Once you got involved, it was like that,” she said.
Lake’s claim with Bank of America was resolved, but she said her EDD account was still suspended despite fulfilling the requirement to verify her identity with a company called ID.me in early January.
“We send over the data to EDD within 24 hours of the verification process and then it’s just a matter of, you know, they’ve some older computers and technology that they have to work through to link that verified identity to the claim,” ID.me CEO Blake Hall said.READ MORE: Daily COVID-19 Case Rates, Hospitalizations Continue Downward Trend In IE, Ventura County
So why are people like Lake, Green and Rowlen waiting weeks, if not months, to access their benefits after verifying their identities?
Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris, D-Laguna Beach, who sits on an EDD oversight committee, said she was trying to find the answer.
“I think this department has fundamentally failed Californians,” she said. “I’ll say that ID.me has definitely been a step forward compared to the manual verification process that EDD was using previously, but it is obviously still not working well enough. It is still not good enough, and the people of California deserve better.”
Hall said EDD told his company that it takes up to 10 days for them to process an ID.me verified identity.
“If more than that 7- to 10-day window goes by, they should absolutely escalate to us, to their lawmaker, to EDD help desk staff, because it should not take longer than that once it gets back to our workforce agency partners,” he said.
Gabriel Rodriguez, a single father of three, said he has been waiting since Jan. 2.
“It’s put me behind on my child support,” he said. “I’ve gotten kicked out of where I was living before because I can’t pay rent, and now I’m living with my mom.
But there were some people, like Green, who have not been able to even verify their identity with ID.me, despite having a passport, a mortgage and a Real ID.
“They can’t identify me because of my middle initial,” Green said. “My employer reported me with a middle initial. My Real ID and password has my full middle name.”
Making matters worse was that when she called EDD for assistance, the person she spoke with said that it was an issue for another department and that they could not help her.MORE NEWS: Orange County Continues March Toward Reopening More Businesses
In a statement to CBS Los Angeles, EDD said about 360,000 of the 1.1 million claims have been verified. The agency also said that Bank of America was responsible for unfreezing debit cards, though the bank said it often cannot unfreeze accounts until EDD lets them know that the beneficiary has going through the identity verification process. To date, EDD said about half a million debit cards remain frozen.