Employment department director Saenz absent as problems persist

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Ritz Saenz, the veteran state official whom Governor Gavin Newsom chose to make the struggling Employment Development Department more efficient and accountable, quits his job.

Newsom announced Friday night that Saenz would be replaced Tuesday by Nancy Farias, the agency’s chief deputy director for external affairs, legislation and policy. The position has an annual salary of $204,613.

Saenz will resume his previous work as a member of the California Commission on Aging.

Newsom named Saenz on December 30, 2020, hailing her as “well-prepared to lead EDD through what is sure to be one of the toughest times in the department’s history.” She had held several high-level positions in the state.

She took over months after a strike team named Newsom recommended steps to keep the agency running smoothly, and by multiple measures, she was making progress.

But though Democratic lawmakers have been somewhat sympathetic, Saenz has continued to face tremendous challenges, and the agency remains riddled with controversy. Republicans remained very critical.

“The fact that the governor replaced her is not surprising,” said Assemblyman Jim Patterson, R-Fresno, who follows EDD closely. “EDD has worked to downplay its most recent failure to prevent fraud in its disability programs. Their “nothing to do here” excuses actually hurt people. »

Among the problems that still plague the agency:

Consumers have complained — and some continue to complain — that EDD staff were slow to return phone calls and regularly offered confusing explanations for why they would delay or reject claims. EDD has hired more representatives to handle calls.

An estimated $20 billion paid in bogus claims to people receiving federally funded unemployment benefits are unlikely to be recovered. In July, EDD tapped former U.S. attorney McGregor Scott to coordinate investigations into fraud schemes aimed at combating the pandemic.

The agency continues to search for more than a million people who received payments from the federal pandemic unemployment assistance program so they can prove they were eligible for the money.

Its disability benefits program was also riddled with fraud. On Thursday, EDD said about 98% of the 27,000 disability insurance medical provider accounts it initially flagged as suspicious were likely fraudulent.

Newsom and EDD

Newsom praised Saenz’s serve on Friday. “Director Saenz took the helm of EDD at a critical time during the pandemic, bringing her decades of experience in both the public and private sectors to meet the unprecedented challenges facing our state and our nation,” she said. -he declares.

Farias will start his new job on Tuesday. Newsom commended her for playing “an invaluable role in the Department’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the state’s unemployment system and implement improvements…”

Farias, 49, of Sacramento, has been in her current role since 2020. She served as director of government relations at SEIU Local 1000 from 2017-2020.

She was deputy chief of staff in the office of Senator Henry Stern from 2016 to 2017 and district director in the office of Congressman Mike Gatto from 2015 to 2016.

Farias also served as assistant secretary for legislation at the Government Operations Agency from 2013 to 2016, assistant director for legislative affairs at the California Department of Human Resources from 2012 to 2013, and legislative director at SEIU Local 1000 from 2009 to 2012.

She holds an MA in Political Science from Suffolk University and a law degree from Suffolk University Law School.

David Lightman is McClatchy’s chief congressional correspondent. He has been writing, editing, and teaching for nearly 50 years, with stops in Hagerstown, Riverside, California, Annapolis, Baltimore, and since 1981, Washington.

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