As the pandemic threatened the health of millions of Californians, another crisis had emerged by April of last year: Over 15 percent of Californians suddenly found themselves without jobs, a 10 percent increase from the month before. Since then, the Employment Development Department has paid out nearly $112 billion in jobless benefits and processed over 19 million claims.
What’s happening now? The crush of applications is still causing backlogs in the system. Although agency officials said they had cleared over 95 percent of claims from September’s restart, as of last week, there were over 700,000 claims stuck in a logjam. The majority of unapproved claims are held up because of claimant certification, a process that requires eligibility information to be provided every two weeks. A website glitch that prevents people from certifying may be to blame.
The department is also contending with a major fraud scandal. Last year, in what some called “the largest fraud scheme against taxpayers in state history,” billions of dollars in payments were sent to phony accounts, including an estimated $400 million to prison inmates.
“The E.D.D. has been a mess for years, but it’s especially bad now because so many people need the department’s help,” Representative Josh Harder said in a statement. “We should absolutely work to eliminate fraud in the system, but we don’t do that by punishing innocent people who just need a hand until the world goes back to normal.”
What’s being done? Officials have not said when the suspended accounts will be reinstated, but they are advising people to look out for messages asking them to verify their identities through a website. After verifying, the E.D.D. said that payments could continue “in a matter of days.”
But Lorena Gonzales, a State Assembly member who said she was communicating with the agency, said that even after all identifying information has been turned in, it could still take up to 30 more days for benefits to clear.
“I’m tearing up as I write this knowing how hard that is for some people,” she wrote on Twitter.
California’s changing of the guard
Governor Newsom — as he said last month that he would — formally appointed Mr. Padilla to the Senate seat Ms. Harris vacated ahead of her inauguration to the vice presidency. Mr. Newsom on Monday also formally nominated Shirley Weber, a State Assembly member, to replace Mr. Padilla as secretary of state.
Each of the three — Ms. Harris, Mr. Padilla and Dr. Weber — are ascending to historic heights. Ms. Harris, as you know, will be the first woman of color, not to mention the first Californian, to become vice president. Mr. Padilla is California’s first Latino senator. And Dr. Weber will be the first Black woman to be California’s chief elections officer.
If you missed it, Ms. Harris’s stepchildren, Ella and Cole Emhoff, talked about their very L.A. upbringing, and life with “Doug,” which is both their father’s first name and what they call him. [The New York Times]
“I’m eager to arrive in the Senate and begin pushing the envelope.” Mr. Padilla talked about the long list of tasks awaiting him in his new job. [The New York Times]
Here’s what you may have missed over the weekend
State capitols — including ours, in Sacramento — braced for violent demonstrations or attacks this weekend, ahead of the inauguration on Wednesday. But they were largely quiet. Still, officials aren’t easing up on security. [The New York Times]
Air quality regulators suspended limits on cremations in Los Angeles County because of the pandemic. The county’s death rate is more than twice as high as it was in years before the pandemic. [South Coast Air Quality Management District]
California officials ordered the state to pause distributing a batch of Moderna vaccines after a higher than usual number of recipients showed signs of severe allergic reactions after being inoculated at Petco Park in San Diego. [The New York Times]
Los Angeles public school officials offered campuses as mass vaccination sites, saying that they already serve as distribution points for important community services. [The New York Times]
If you missed it, read about why California’s vaccine rollout has been difficult and confusing. [The New York Times]
Over the weekend, record-breaking heat created summerlike conditions across the Southland. [KTLA]
On Monday, the heat broke records in the Bay Area. [Daniel Swain]
And there could be rare winter wildfires because of continuing hot, dry conditions. [The Washington Post]
After wildfires, Californians are rethinking their willingness to rebuild. [The New York Times]
Phil Spector, one of the most influential music producers of all time and a convicted murderer, died of complications from Covid-19. He had been serving a prison sentence in Corcoran. [The New York Times]
See images of The One, a Bel Air estate billed by its developers as the world’s most expensive home. They put an almost $350 million price tag on the place, which has a cigar lounge and is surrounded by a running track. [Architectural Digest]
California Today goes live at 6:30 a.m. Pacific time weekdays. Tell us what you want to see: CAtoday@nytimes.com. Were you forwarded this email? Sign up for California Today here and read every edition online here.
Jill Cowan grew up in Orange County, graduated from U.C. Berkeley and has reported all over the state, including the Bay Area, Bakersfield and Los Angeles — but she always wants to see more. Follow along here or on Twitter.
California Today is edited by Julie Bloom, who grew up in Los Angeles and graduated from U.C. Berkeley.