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AB-402 Office of the Claimant Advocate and Stakeholder Advisory Group.(2021-2022)

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Date Published: 08/27/2021 04:00 AM
AB402:v96#DOCUMENT

Amended  IN  Senate  August 26, 2021
Amended  IN  Senate  June 29, 2021
Amended  IN  Assembly  April 21, 2021

CALIFORNIA LEGISLATURE— 2021–2022 REGULAR SESSION

Assembly Bill
No. 402


Introduced by Assembly Members Wicks and Petrie-Norris
(Principal coauthor: Assembly Member Chiu)
(Coauthors: Assembly Members Mayes and Santiago)

February 03, 2021


An act to add Articles 1.2 (commencing with Section 350) and 1.3 (commencing with Section 360) to Chapter 2 of Part 1 of Division 1 of the Unemployment Insurance Code, relating to unemployment insurance, and making an appropriation therefor.


LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL'S DIGEST


AB 402, as amended, Wicks. Office of the Claimant Advocate and Stakeholder Advisory Group.
Existing law establishes the Employment Development Department, administered by the Director of Employment Development, within the Labor and Workforce Development Agency and sets forth its powers and duties related to the administration of the state unemployment and disability compensation programs. Existing law provides that the expense of the administration of specified provisions relating to unemployment compensation shall be paid out of the Unemployment Administration Fund, which is a continuously appropriated fund, except as provided.
This bill would establish the Office of the Claimant Advocate, within the Employment Development Department, and would make the office responsible for protecting Californian’s Californians’ rights in seeking benefits administered by the department, including unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and paid family leave. The bill would specify the goal of the office to provide assistance to claimants during times of crisis, as defined, and require the office to conduct several activities, activities to provide non-claim-specific assistance to claimants, including, but not limited to, upholding the Claimant’s Bill of Rights, as specified, establishing and implementing a system that allows claimants to learn about and report violations of their rights to the office, and assisting claimants in resolving those violations, as provided. The bill, commencing January 1, 2024, would require the office to issue a yearly report to specified policy committees of the Legislature and legislative leadership on various data trends from the past year, including utilization of benefit programs aggregated by income level and level, processing times for benefit programs for both online and paper applications. applications, and systemic access issues identified by the office and a complete list of recommendations and actions taken by the office to resolve those issues.
This bill would also establish the Stakeholder Advisory Group within the Employment Development Department, to be administered by the Claimant and Stakeholder Liaison, which informs the department with policy expertise and firsthand knowledge of claimant experiences. The bill would specify the activities of the group, including, but not limited to, engaging with the Office of the Claimant Advocate and stakeholders in identifying systemic access issues to benefits and making recommendations to solve those issues, and creating and publishing a Claimant’s Bill of Rights that outlines an individual’s right to benefit programs administered by the department within one year of establishment of the group.
Because this bill would authorize the expenditure of funds from the Unemployment Administration Fund for a new purpose, the bill would make an appropriation.
Vote: 2/3   Appropriation: YES   Fiscal Committee: YES   Local Program: NO  

The people of the State of California do enact as follows:


SECTION 1.

 Article 1.2 (commencing with Section 350) is added to Chapter 2 of Part 1 of Division 1 of the Unemployment Insurance Code, to read:
Article  1.2. Office of the Claimant Advocate

350.
 (a) (1) There is hereby established within the Employment Development Department the Office of the Claimant Advocate, which is responsible for protecting Californians’ rights in seeking benefits administered by the department, including unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and paid family leave.
(2) The goal of the office shall be to provide assistance to claimants during “times of crisis,” as defined by executive order or when the department is reporting a backlog equal to or exceeding 100,000 claims in the past 21 days that are in pending status awaiting department action. The office shall begin with a staff of up to 20 employees.
(3) If a time of crisis is activated pursuant to paragraph (2), the The office shall coordinate with and collect data from the Employment Development Department consumer assistance or call centers and the fully functioning Stakeholder Advisory Group to improve claimants’ access to benefits for which they are eligible and that are awarded through the benefit programs administered by the department, including unemployment and disability insurance programs, Paid Family Leave, work sharing, and Nonindustrial Disability Insurance programs, such as Family Care Leave.
(b) The office shall conduct several activities to provide claimants with non-claim-specific assistance as part of this function, including, but not limited to, both all of the following:
(1) Uphold the Claimant’s Bill of Rights upon establishment as provided in Section 360.

(1)

(2) Establish and implement a system that allows claimants to learn about and report violations of their rights under this code to the office. The office shall be responsible for assisting the claimant in resolving those violations, using all methods of communication and access points to various subdivisions of the department, including, but not limited to, telephonic, online, or written means.

(2)

(3) Establish and update, as necessary, an internet webpage on the department’s internet website that includes information on the functions of the office and the relevant contact information for claimants to report violations of their rights and seek help in accessing benefits.
(c) (1) Beginning January 1, 2024, the office shall issue a report on a yearly basis to the Assembly Committee on Insurance, Senate Committee on Labor, Public Employment and Retirement, Speaker of the Assembly, and President pro Tempore of the Senate that includes data on levels and trends through the past year for both all of the following categories:
(A) Utilization of benefit programs aggregated by income level.
(B) Processing times for benefit programs for both online and paper applications.
(C) Systemic access issues identified by the office and a complete list of recommendations and actions taken by the office to resolve those issues.
(2) The office shall make recommendations in the report, to be shared with the Stakeholder Advisory Group, in consultation with stakeholders, for improvements needed to ensure prompt access to benefits for claimants.
(3) For the purpose of publicly reporting information as required in this subdivision about the problems faced by claimants in resolving violations or obtaining access to benefits administered by the department’s benefit programs, the office shall analyze data on claimant complaints and grievances resolved by the office, including demographic data, source of violation or complaint, resolution of violation or complaint, and other information intended to improve access to benefits administrated through the department’s benefit programs.

SEC. 2.

 Article 1.3 (commencing with Section 360) is added to Chapter 2 of Part 1 of Division 1 of the Unemployment Insurance Code, to read:
Article  1.3. Stakeholder Advisory Group

360.
 (a) (1) There is hereby established within the Employment Development Department a fully functioning Stakeholder Advisory Group, which informs the department with policy expertise and firsthand knowledge of claimant experiences.
(2) The Stakeholder Advisory Group shall be administered by an executive-level position known as the Claimant and Stakeholder Liaison.
(b) The Stakeholder Advisory Group shall conduct several activities, including, but not limited to, all of the following:
(1) Advise the department on implementing policies and procedures that relate to improving customer and stakeholder engagement.
(2) Engage with the Office of the Claimant Advocate and stakeholders, who represent claimants, in identifying systemic access issues to benefits and making recommendations to solve those systemic access issues. This engagement includes, but is not limited to, reviewing a claimant’s ability to contact the department regarding basic and claim-specific information through telephonic and online means.
(3) Within one year of the establishment of the Stakeholder Advisory Group, create and publish a Claimant’s Bill of Rights that outlines an individual’s right to benefit programs administered by the department.
(4) Communicate to claimants and stakeholders, including community advocates, any proposed changes to the benefit programs administered by the department, including, but not limited to, changes to the paper or online applications for benefits.