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AB-402 Office of the Claimant Advocate: Claimant’s Bill of Rights.(2021-2022)

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Date Published: 04/21/2021 09:00 PM
AB402:v98#DOCUMENT

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 Article 1.2 (commencing with Section 350) 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. Advocate: Claimant’s Bill of Rights.
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 rights in seeking benefits administered by the department, including unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and paid family leave. The bill would require the office to conduct several activities, including, but not limited to, establishing and enforcing a the Claimant’s Bill of Rights, as provided, 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. violations, as provided. The bill 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 processing times for benefit programs for both online and paper applications for benefits.
This bill would establish the Claimant’s Bill of Rights and would specify several rights that claimants have in relation to benefits awarded by the department, including the right to report a violation of their rights, to receive timely notices and correspondence as they relate to their application status, claim status, and benefits awarded, and to be promptly informed when the status of their account or claim changes, as specified.
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 Californian’s rights in seeking benefits administered by the department, including unemployment insurance, disability insurance, and paid family leave.
(2) The goals of the office shall be to provide assistance to claimants, coordinate with and collect data from the Employment Development Department consumer assistance or call centers, and 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 as part of this function, including, but not limited to, all of the following:
(1) Establishing and enforcing a Enforce the Claimant’s Bill of Rights that outlines an individual’s rights to benefit programs administered by the department, including, but not limited to, a right to report violations of these rights as described in paragraph (2) and to seek help in enforcing these rights through the office. outlined in Section 355.
(2) Establishing and implementing 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. violations, using all methods of communication, including, but not limited to, telephonic, online, or written means.
(3) Engaging Engage claimants and advocates who represent them in identifying systemic access issues to benefits and making make 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.
(4) Establishing and updating, 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.
(5) Communicating to claimants and community-based organizations any proposed changes to the benefit programs, programs administered by the department, including, but not limited to, changes to the paper or online applications for benefits.
(c) (1) The Beginning January 1, 2024, the office shall issue a report on a yearly basis to the Legislature 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 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 for benefits.
(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)A report submitted pursuant to this section shall be submitted in compliance with Section 9795 of the Government Code.

(2) The office shall make recommendations in the report, 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.

355.
 (a) This section shall be known, and may be cited, as the Claimant’s Bill of Rights.
(b) Claimants’ rights to benefits awarded through the benefit programs administered by the Employment Development Department include, but are not limited to, all of the following:
(1) The Right to Report: Claimants have the right to report a violation of these rights and to seek help in enforcing these rights through the office.
(2) The Right to Notice: Claimants are entitled to receive timely notices and correspondence as they relate to their application status, claim status, and benefits awarded. This includes, but is not limited to, when payment is delayed or pending, a new account creation or recertification is required, or when an account is halted due to error or fraud.
(3) The Right to Be Informed: Claimants have the right to be promptly informed when the status of their account or claim changes and negatively impacts their ability to access benefits awarded. Claimants have the right to information that is specific to their claim or case and clearly explains the reason for the change that negatively impacted their ability to access their benefits. Claimants are entitled to prompt instruction on how to amend negative changes required to advance access to benefits awarded.
(4) The Right to Quality Service: Claimants have the right to receive prompt, courteous, culturally appropriate, and professional assistance in their dealings with the department, and to receive clear and easily understandable communications in written form, if requested, from the department.
(5) The Right to Challenge the Department’s Position and Be Heard: Claimants have the right to challenge or raise objections and provide additional documentation in response to formal department actions or proposed actions, and to expect that the department will consider their timely objections and documentation promptly and fairly.
(6) The Right to Appeal a Decision of the Department: Claimants are entitled to a fair and impartial administrative appeal of decisions of the department, including any penalties, and have the right to receive a written response regarding the decision of the appeals board. Claimants have the right to receive a clear explanation of reasoning if the department does not accept their appeal. Claimants are also entitled to a clear course of action in the event a neutral position is taken on an appeal.
(7) The Right to Finality: Claimants have the right to know the maximum amount of time they have to address errors and challenges, as well as the maximum amount of time the department has to consider a claimant’s appeal, challenge, or proposed resolutions. Claimants have the right to know when the department has resolved the error or come to a decision about their appeal or challenge.
(8) The Right to Confidentiality, Privacy, and to Retain Representation: Claimants have the right to expect that any department inquiry, examination, or enforcement action will comply with the law and be no more intrusive than necessary, and will respect all due process rights. Claimants have the right to expect that any information they provide to the department will not be disclosed unless authorized by the claimant or by law. Claimants have the right to request an advocate from the Office of the Claimant Advocate or to retain an authorized representative of their choice to represent them in their dealings with the department.