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New EDD chief talks about California unemployment fraud challenge

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The new head of the California Department of Employment Development said Thursday she was trying to balance the fight against fraud with providing benefits to people who need them.

“My priority is to get unemployment benefits into the hands of qualifying Californians as quickly as possible and to stop fraud before it enters the system,” Rita Saenz said on a conference call with journalists.

The agency grappled with the two during an extraordinary unemployment surge caused by the pandemic. Officials admit that EDD paid at least $ 11 billion to crooks, including inmates and organized criminals, a figure that could reach $ 30 billion. At the same time, millions of legitimate claimants say they waited months to receive benefits and spent hundreds of frustrating hours trying to contact EDD.

Saenz took over as CEO of EDD at the end of December for a salary of $ 204,864. Former director Sharon Hilliard has resigned after spending 37 years at EDD – but less than a year at the helm.

The California State Auditor, a task force appointed by Governor Newsom and state lawmakers all say the agency is in urgent need of reform. Saenz said she has strategies in place to achieve this.



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