President Biden on Wednesday appointed California Secretary of Labor Julie A. Su as deputy commander of the U.S. Department of Labor, though she faces criticism from some in her home state for ongoing problems in the employment development department, which has delayed the approval of unemployment benefits while paying billions of dollars in counterfeit requirements.
Although Democratic lawmakers and supervisors gather around Su’s nomination, arguing that she did the best she could after inheriting an unemployment system prevented by outdated technology, understaffing and operational problems, others, including Republican lawmakers, raise concerns her record.
State Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron of Escondido questioned the president’s decision to put Su, whose nomination is subject to confirmation by the U.S. Senate, in an administrative role in the department that oversees unemployment programs nationally when the state agency falls under her responsibility has done so poorly in helping unemployed Californians.
“Unemployed Californians have suffered a lot under the current California Secretary of Labor supervising unemployment benefits under COVID,” Waldron said. “It is very disturbing to think that this record of failure could be implemented nationally, especially at a time when so many Americans are struggling.”
Some of the same concerns may arise during her confirmation hearing, but Su also has strong allies.
The appointment of Su, who in 2001 won a “genius” grant from the MacArthur Foundation for his legal work seeking better working conditions for immigrants, was praised by Art Pulaski, executive secretary-treasurer of the California Labor Federation.
“Fighting for working people is in Julie Su’s DNA,” Pulaski said. “During her distinguished career in California, she has tackled some of the most difficult problems that workers face today, always with justice as her beacon.”
Govin Newsom also praised the appointment.
“Julie Su embodies the spirit of California,” Newsom said in a statement. With a leader like Julie at the helm – a tireless fighter for working Americans and a voice for the voiceless – the US Department of Labor will play a key role in guiding us through recovery towards becoming a safer, fairer and more prosperous nation. ”
The White House said in a statement on Wednesday that Su and another candidate who were announced at the same time, Deputy Secretary-General David Turk, “will partner with the president in building a stronger, more resilient and more inclusive economy that supplies every American. a reasonable return on their work and an equal chance to move on. ”
Su, 51, was appointed in January 2019 by Newsom as secretary of the California Labor and Workforce Development Agency, which includes several offices, including EDD, operator of the state’s unemployment benefit system.
She has often been the face of the state government’s response to unemployment that is the result of the COVID-19 pandemic that began in March 2020, and as a result, they have found themselves in recent months apologizing to Californians for the broken system at EDD.
In a Facebook Live chat in April, unemployed Californians peppered her with 1,500 questions and messages, many of which showed frustration.
“I recognize that problem. I own it, ”Su said during the session. “I want you to hear from me directly that this is not acceptable and we will fix it.”
She has also acknowledged during legislative hearings, on social media chats with the public and in calls to journalists, that EDD was unprepared for the unprecedented demand for unemployment assistance after millions were out of work during the pandemic.
“It should come as no surprise that EDD was overwhelmed just like the rest of the country’s unemployment agencies,” Su told reporters on January 25.
EDD has dealt with nearly 20 million claims for unemployment benefits and paid out $ 118 billion in benefits since March last year, while delays have created a backlog of more than 1 million claims that have been awaited for more than 21 days.
The problems at EDD gave some California leaders a break when reports came in late last year that Su could possibly be considered by Biden as his Labor secretary.
The California Business and Industrial Alliance weighed in with a full-page ad in the Wall Street Journal on Dec. 4 that said: . ”
In a letter to U.S. Senate leaders last week, Alliance President Tom Manzo opposed the appointment of Biden as vice president of Labor by Biden.
“As the highest-ranking California civil servant, Su oversaw a massive failure in California’s unemployment insurance system,” he wrote.
But at the same time, more than 40 civil rights and working groups called on Biden to choose Su.
“Over the course of nearly ten years in office, Julie Su has developed a track record of reviving labor agencies to carry out their mission,” said the letter from groups including the United Farm Workers of America, Asian Americans Advancing Justice and National Immigration Law. Center.
Biden ended up appointing Boston Mayor Marty Walsh as Secretary of State and decided to give Su job No. 2 in the federal agency.
Su was also singled out for criticism Friday in a letter from California Republican members of Congress, including House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield.
GOP officials protested against comments made by Su on January 25, saying part of the blame for EDD’s inability to prevent widespread fraud goes to the Trump administration, which she said did not provide adequate guidance and resources to California. to counter fraud schemes. targeted at the congress-approved program for unemployed concert workers.
Republican lawmakers wrote to Su and Newsom, saying California had the resources to fight fraud in unemployment programs and for several months failed to follow warnings from federal officials about the possibility of fraud.
“So it is unconscious that Secretary Su claims that the federal government did not provide sufficient resources or funding for the administration of COVID-related [unemployment insurance] programs, in a clear attempt to deny the blame and responsibility for these errors by Newsom Administration, ”they wrote.
Some California officials who have been critical of the EDD, including San Francisco Democratic Assemblymen David Chiu and Phil Ting, said Su has done everything she could to fix the EDD and has a recognized record of helping state workers.
“Although I have had significant problems with the management of EDD, I have seen how Secretary Su has done everything to resolve a situation that she inherited,” Chiu said. “She is a highly competent and efficient voice for workers.”
Assemblywoman Cottie Petrie-Norris (D-Laguna Beach) said Su is “an incredibly smart woman,” but said she stumbled in dealing with EDD.
“She has done a tremendous job on many different initiatives, but she has not done a good job of leading the employment development department and as a result has wasted billions of dollars and, more importantly, caused heartache for millions of Californians,” Petrie- Norris, who chairs the Assembly’s accountability and administrative audit committee.
Su, a Los Angeles Democrat, spent 17 years as a civil rights lawyer focusing on protecting low-wage workers and immigrant victims of crime and human trafficking. Sus’ parents were Chinese immigrants, and she speaks Mandarin and Spanish. She is a graduate of Stanford University and Harvard Law School.
In the early weeks of the pandemic, she held weekly Facebook Live chats, answering questions about EDD and urging patience as her office tried to make changes to smooth the approval of benefits.
“I know people are still having trouble reaching someone in the call center today. I know people are still not getting through, ”Su said during an April chat.
EDD hired thousands of new people to answer phones and process demands, but a strike team appointed by the governor said the system still needed changes and recommended a review of its technology and processes.
“I know this sounds crazy because we’re in California, we’re the technology center of the world, but our system is built on more outdated systems, and because of that it’s inflexible – it’s very difficult to change,” Su said. during another Facebook Live session last spring.
Su told lawmakers during recent hearings that she is committed to making changes recommended by the governor’s strike team.
“EDD was sadly unprepared for the unsurpassed demands created by COVID-19,” Su said in a statement to The Times in December. But she added: “Many of the problems were not caused by COVID-19.”
State audit issued January 26 and 28 confirmed that problems have existed in EDD for years.
State Attorney Elaine Howle said poor planning and inefficient management left the California Unemployment Agency unprepared to help unemployed Californians, adding that “EDD’s inefficient processes and lack of advanced planning led to significant delays” in unemployment benefit payments.
Later in the week, Howle issued one second sharp reportand said that for several months EDD had not heeded warnings about vulnerabilities in its unemployment request system, which officials say have paid more than $ 11 billion on fraudulent claims since March.
State Senate Minority Leader Shannon Grove (R-Bakersfield) said the problems at EDD raise questions about whether Su should become administrator of the U.S. Department of Labor, which is responsible for helping states provide unemployment benefits and fight fraud.
“Nearly 1 million unemployment claims are currently stuck in EDD backlogs, hundreds of thousands of Californians have had their unemployment benefits frozen, and EDD has already paid out billions of dollars in false claims,” Grove said. “Is California’s ‘expertise’ really what this country needs?”
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