Stacy Lira was nearly a year into her unofficial job as an unemployment-claim detective when things went from bad to worse.
The 46-year-old mother of three, who lost her job managing an Inland Empire convenience store last spring, was rushed to the hospital in mid-February. She was struggling to breathe after testing positive for COVID-19. But Lira was adamant that she couldn’t leave home without one thing: She needed her carefully filed unemployment records so she could keep calling from the hospital about the nearly $20,000 she says the state owes her family.
“If you miss one day,” Lira explained, “that could have been the day that it all worked out.”
As the ranks of desperate California workers like Lira swell, the state’s embattled Employment Development Department insists it’s getting things under control. It has help from an ever-expanding roster of private contractors that are staffing up call centers, modernizing tech systems and rooting out fraud, agency officials have stressed on social media and at political hearings in Sacramento. That effort that, all told, has so far cost the state at least $236 million during the pandemic, the agency told CalMatters.
The contracts are part of a nationwide unemployment gold rush, as tech companies and consultants pitch overwhelmed public agencies new solutions for fraud and outdated claims systems. One Bloomberg Law report last summer tallied $173.8 million in pandemic-era unemployment contracts for the consulting giants Accenture, Deloitte and EY alone.
—Lauren Hepler, CalMatters