The state Employment Development Department put millions of workers in jeopardy of identity theft because the labor agency mailed letters to people containing their full social security numbers, the state auditor reported Thursday.
The disclosure served up a fresh embarrassment for the embattled agency that has failed to promptly and accurately pay unemployment claims at a time of historic job losses amid coronavirus-linked business shutdowns.
“EDD has sent at least 38 million pieces of mail containing claimants’ full Social Security numbers since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the state Auditor said Thursday as part of a scathing report regarding the EDD’s performance.
The results of that could be catastrophic, California Auditor Elaine Howle warned in a report to the state Legislature and Gov. Gavin Newsom.
The state auditor noted that it had warned the EDD in March 2019 that it was exposing California workers to identify theft. The audit stated that the EDD has failed to take action despite the warnings.
“EDD has continued to place Californians at risk of identity theft,” the auditor reported.
In a response to the State Auditor, the EDD acknowledged it is facing difficulties.
“EDD is committed to protecting the confidentiality of our claimants’ information and protecting them and our programs from fraud,” the EDD wrote.
The agency conceded it is struggling to meet a January 2023 deadline that requires all state government agencies and departments to cease sending any correspondence that contains Social Security numbers, according to the auditor.
“We are admittedly behind schedule,” the EDD told the state auditors.
The revelation of a fresh crop of blunders at the state EDD overshadowed the regular weekly report on initial unemployment claims in California.
During the week that ended on Nov. 14, about 159,000 California workers filed initial claims for unemployment benefits, which was an increase of 1,200 from the prior week, government officials reported Thursday.
Nationwide, 742,000 workers filed first-time claims for unemployment benefits last week, up 31,000 from the week before.
California during the week ending on Nov. 14 accounted for 21.4% of all of the initial unemployment claims filed nationwide.
The EDD has faltered in its efforts to pay unemployed workers during the eight months of business shutdowns ordered by state and local government agencies to combat the coronavirus.
The audit raises a new round of unsettling disclosures about the EDD and calls into question the ability of the state agency to protect workers who are already beleaguered because they are out of work.
Even worse, the state auditor warned that the estimated 38 million letters might be on the low side.
“The true number of documents mailed with full SSNs is likely even higher because our calculation of 38 million mailings is based on only a selection of ten high-volume forms,” the auditor stated.
In March 2019, the state Auditor determined that the EDD sent out at least 13 million pieces of mail with full Social Security numbers in the correspondence.
The auditor recommended that the EDD remove by March 2020 the Social Security numbers from the state labor agency’s three highest-volume forms that the agency mails out.
“Although EDD made progress in removing SSNs from some of the forms we reviewed, it has not removed them from the three that it most frequently mails,” the auditors stated.
State auditors observed and photographed stacks of mail returned to the EDD that included numerous letters with Social Security numbers.
“EDD’s practice of including full SSNs on certain mailed documents has resulted in many individuals’ SSNs being delivered to strangers who may choose to exploit the inappropriate mailings,” the state auditors said.
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