Californians who want to know how much progress the state unemployment department has made on crucial reforms will likely have to wait until after the Sept. 14 recall election of Gov. Gavin Newsom. That’s because state lawmakers have twice postponed a key hearing on the Employment Development Department — and likely won’t take up the issue again until Sept. 21, I’ve exclusively learned. The hearing, originally scheduled for Aug. 17, was pushed to Aug. 24. Then a notice was published online: “HEARING POSTPONED.” Staffers told me the delay was due to scheduling conflicts inherent in bringing together four committees during the frenzied last month of the legislative session.
But the twice-moved date, when considered in light of other developments, also raises questions. Earlier this week, state lawmakers canceled an oversight hearing into wildfire prevention scheduled after a CapRadio report found Newsom overstated by 690% the amount of land treated to prevent fires from harming California’s most vulnerable communities. The cancellation came amid a swirl of sobering statistics: Although it’s early in the fire season, more than 1 million acres have already burned. This week, the monstrous Dixie Fire became the first in state history to burn clear across the Sierra Nevada, while clouds of smoke caused Tahoe to notch its worst air pollution readings in a decade.
The problems are just as persistent at EDD, which has consistently been one of Newsom’s biggest political liabilities during the pandemic — and which some Democratic voters told me prompted them to support the recall. On Thursday, State Auditor Elaine Howle released a report on high-risk state issues and agencies, citing EDD for its failure to detect fraud and for paying out billions of dollars in improper claims. Incidentally, an Arkansas woman was sentenced to prison on Thursday for filing over 100 fraudulent unemployment claims with EDD, which ultimately paid her more than $569,000.