Disabled Californians plead for EDD to unlock their benefits after 340,000 accounts frozen

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) -- 7 On Your Side has reported on the massive freeze of disability benefits as the Employment Development Department (EDD) tries to weed out fraudulent claims. The EDD suspended 345,000 accounts, saying most are fraudulent. But it left thousands of truly disabled folks locked out of their benefits.

The EDD isn't saying how many legitimate claims are still frozen, but says thousands of claims are still under review. Now, many disabled folks are running out of money and standing in line -- despite illness -- hoping to get their benefits.

"I'm in remission, but it's incurable, so at some time..." says Bill Grayson of San Jose.

Grayson was already fighting a rare cancer, and heart disease. On top of it all, he took a bad fall.

"And I severely broke my back..." Grayson said. "So yes, it's been one thing after another, and then, the EDD."

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New moms were caught in the crossfire of the EDD's crackdown on fraud -- including one who was ordered to stay stress-free for the sake of her twins.



It was the last thing he needed. Through the fog of illness, Grayson noticed the EDD had cut off his disability payments -- with no warning.

"I realized, 'Why? Why isn't a payment coming through?' and there was just nothing there," said Grayson.

Grayson had no idea the EDD had frozen his claim -- along with 345,000 others -- as it tries to stop a huge disability scam.

"They could have easily sent a message, 'Hey, we need to prove your ID.' But they didn't, they didn't tell me anything," he said.

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He kept trying to call the EDD.

"I had it on speed dial hitting all the buttons," Grayson said.

He sent online messages but no reply.

"I didn't have any other option," Grayson said. "I mean, I couldn't reach them on the phone and..." he sighed.

And so, in spite of his pain, Grayson went down to the EDD disability office in San Jose.

"It took a little bit of suffering. I'm not taking pain medication when I'm driving so I just had to deal with it, I wore my brace..." he said.

But instead of quick answers, he found a long line wrapped around the block, made up of others who'd lost their benefits too.

The wait: up to four hours.

"I'm in a lot of pain, I can't just stand up for four hours in a row," Grayson said. "I just went right to the front... 'cause I couldn't stand there."

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Some unemployment recipients missed out on a big $10,200 tax break from the IRS because of how long the EDD took to deliver their delayed benefits.



Grayson asked for the forms he needed to prove he's really disabled.

"And they wouldn't give me one. They told me I had to come back and wait in line. I said 'I can't, I have to be in bed, like I shouldn't even be here right now.' And they said, 'Well you gotta wait in line like everybody else. Everybody here is disabled.' That's what they said. They basically said, 'Too bad, deal with it,'" Grayson said.

Grayson knew he'd need help to stand in line.

"Maybe my wife can hold my spot while I wait in the car... She would have to take time from work," he said.

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Yet it seemed wrong to make disabled folks endure long lines.

"It's mind-boggling to think this is something that people really need," Grayson said. "It's only there for people who are disabled, and yet they make you come into the office to deal with it. It kind of goes against what disabled means. There's people like me who can't go down to the office easily or can't at all."

Like Dale Phillips of Vallejo.

"Everything hurts, every muscle in your body hurts," Phillips explained.

Phillips went to a disability office three times in spite of severe pain from lupus -- and still couldn't get his benefits.

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Bringing a new baby into the world is a time of joy and stress. But as many brought their newborns home, they found the EDD had frozen their benefits.



"I feel like I'm not gonna get the money," says Amanda Miroyan. Miroyan took her newborn to the office -- but could not get her benefits either.

Grayson was about to go with his wife to wait in that line, "But thank goodness 7 On Your Side helped me," he said.

He contacted 7 On Your Side, and we asked EDD why he can't get the right forms.

A spokesperson said, in part, "Every claimant associated with a suspended claim was sent notices with the specific instructions that applied to them and if someone says they have not received that notice, they are encouraged to contact EDD via SDI online or the call center..."

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The Department of Labor has agreed not to make workers repay benefits they received by mistake, as long as they were not obtained by fraud.



Of course, Grayson tried all that. So we got help from Grayson's state senator, Dave Cortese. His office contacted EDD -- and obtained the simple form Grayson needed.

"They asked for my name, my claim number, my social... that's it and I did it in 10 minutes," Grayson said.

Within days he got his benefits back.

"I don't have to worry about having food, paying my mortgage anymore. You know, that's a huge amount of stress relief. and stress is as deadly as cancer," he said.

The EDD did not tell us how many claims are still being verified, but says, "a few thousand documents" are still awaiting review. EDD emphasized that 80% of claims were never suspended... still, that leaves 20% dealing with delays.

Take a look at more stories and videos by Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.

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