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Lawmakers demand answers to accusations Bank of America siphoned EDD unemployment benefits

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - California lawmakers want Bank of America to explain why money is being taken from bank accounts belonging to unemployed workers throughout California. Those workers expected to survive on that money provided by the EDD, Employment Development Department, which oversees unemployment benefits for millions of out-of-work Californians.

Our ABC affiliates in Los Angeles and San Francisco first reported on this disturbing trend. Now, a bipartisan group of 59 lawmakers from all over California are demanding Bank of America CEO Brian Moynihan explain why this is happening.

The NewsChannel contacted local Assemblymembers Monique Limon and Jordan Cunningham to find out what role they are playing in investigating this latest scandal involving lost, stolen and/or misappropriated unemployment money affecting millions of desperate unemployed Californians. Many of them are barely hanging on financially through the pandemic and they see news headlines about massive problems at the EDD.

Last week, District Attorney's from five counties revealed how inmates at county jails and prisons all over California have been linked to one of the largest frauds in state history. They said up to one billion dollars in taxpayer money may have been stolen in these scams.

Many people who filed for unemployment benefits through the EDD after they were laid off because of the pandemic in March, April and May still have not received their benefits. Now it appears some of the people who thought they were lucky enough to receive their benefits are seeing that money vanish from their bank accounts with no explanation to this point.

A Bank of America spokesman replied to our inquiries about the most recent allegations of taking EDD money out of customers accounts. However, he did not address the specific issues in this article and sent us the following written statement:

-       We encourage anyone with a potential fraud on their unemployment card to contact us and provide supporting documents, if possible, so we can review their situation as quickly as possible.

-       To serve unemployment recipients, we have increased our staffing for these cards nearly 20-fold since the pandemic began and continue to add staff.

-       Unfortunately, there has been billions of dollars of fraud during this pandemic in state unemployment programs, including California.

-       We are working with the state and law enforcement to identify and take action to fight fraud, protect taxpayer money and ensure that legitimate recipients can access their benefits.

A spokesperson for the California Employment Development Department sent us the following written statement as well:

It's extremely unfortunate that Californians have suffered at the hands of scammers across the country. The EDD is dedicated to doing everything possible to ensure legitimate claimants get the benefits they are eligible to receive while working with our partners like Bank of America to shut down fraudulent claims and law enforcement agencies to bring offenders to justice. 

We also want to make sure we reiterate that EDD is not withdrawing any funds from card accounts.  As we noted in our news release on October 29, the EDD has asked Bank of America, and they have agreed, to change the description of these transactions moving forward. Bank of America and the EDD are asking that any cardholder who is uncertain on why a debit to their account occurred to call Bank of America at the number on the back of their card (1-866-692-9374) to resolve the situation.

Assemblymember Monique Limon sent us the following statement late Tuesday afternoon: It is big problem that Bank of America is freezing accounts and taking money from their members when many Californians are relying on the money they are receiving from the EDD and living paycheck to paycheck. I signed on to a letter from Assemblymembers and Senators asking Bank of America about the criteria they use to freeze accounts and their plans to reinstate them this week. As the Chair of the Assembly Banking and Finance Committee, I have spent the last three years working to ensure financial institutions working in a responsive and responsible way to help California Consumers. Time is of the essence, and Californians in need cannot be without resources during these pressing times. My office will continue to follow the situation closely.

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C.J. Ward

C.J. Ward is the evening anchor for KEYT NewsChannel 3 and the station’s lead investigative reporter. To learn more about C.J., click here

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