“They said you had to take sick leave, no driving, no going to the office and no stress,” Martin explained. “My goal was 38 weeks, with my doctor, you know, ‘let’s try to get to 38 weeks.’ And I started at 28 weeks.”
So Whittier resident Martin went on maternity leave, determined to carry her babies for at least 10 more weeks.
Then it happened.
The Employment Development Department (EDD) had sent her three disability checks at the start of her sick leave, but suddenly the payments stopped.
Just like her stress-free life.
“We were about to have two babies and suddenly I have no income and I can’t work,” she recalls.
Hers, it turns out, was among 345,000 claims the EDD flagged as potentially fraudulent, and froze, as it investigated a massive disability scam.
VIDEO: CA EDD slashes benefits for new moms as it investigates massive disability fraud
Fraudsters had stolen the identities of approximately 27,000 California doctors and used their credentials to file fake disability claims. EDD discovered the scam after thousands of fraudulent applications had already been approved. It therefore froze all claims deemed suspicious, including many new ones – in this case, pregnant women who give birth in December and January tend to be caught in the freeze.
Suddenly, she and her doctors had to prove they were legit. However, EDD never explained how they were supposed to prove themselves.
An EDD representative said its doctors would receive a notice on how to verify their identity. However, the doctors said they never received a notice and could not get any answers either.
“And here I’m doing my best to resolve this issue with my doctor’s office and with EDD and EDD is so backed up…you can’t reach anyone,” Martin said.
Suddenly, her quiet life erupted into a daily battle with ESD.
“It really felt like a battle,” Martin recalled. “You have to think strategically, knowing that they open the phone lines at 8am but you can’t wait in line unless you’re there at the right time. I woke up at 7:45 every morning, you call and call and call, and you get so good at dialing those numbers; first the EDD number, then you press 1330, 1330, as fast as you can,” she said, citing a now well-known tip for Skip the recorded messages to hopefully get into the queue to speak with a representative.
Most of the time the calls hang up.
RELATED: Former SoCal EDD Employee Sentenced to 5+ Years in Prison for $4.3M Fraudulent Scheme
“We’re sorry, the maximum number of callers waiting to reach a representative has been reached. Please call back,” was the recorded message she received hundreds of times.
“And that’s nothing. No response is going to take that stress away, but getting rejected is even more terrible,” Martin said.
Martin was trying hard not to let stress get to him, but the bills were piling up. Besides the mortgage, utilities, groceries, and car payments, her prenatal hospital bills had ballooned into the thousands of dollars.
“I was lying at home trying to figure out ‘How are we going to survive?'” she recalled, fighting back tears. “My husband doesn’t earn enough to support me, him and his two babies on the way, and now I have medical payments. We do everything we can to minimize my stress, and then it ends up blowing up in our faces. .”
His disability had been approved and the couple had assumed part of their new parenthood was covered. Instead, it increased his stress.
“It became the biggest obstacle to my ability to stay stress-free and pregnant for as long as I could stay pregnant,” she said.
And then his worst fear came true. She went into labor three weeks early.
“I’m not saying it caused me to give birth prematurely,” she said of the EDD ending her disability benefits. “But that certainly didn’t help.”
VIDEO: CA EDD admits wrongly denying benefits of pandemic for women; now she has a big debt and a big tax bill
The twins were born, then rushed to neonatal intensive care.
One of the boys had to be put on a ventilator.
“He wasn’t able to breathe,” she said, her voice shaking. “It’s hard to see your son with, you know, the tubes going up his nose and a machine beeping, showing his oxygen saturation levels, and you’re thinking, ‘I hope every breath is okay, you know, happen.'”
Their first weeks of life were a struggle to thrive.
7 On Your Side spoke with Martin as she waited for a chance to visit them in NICU.
“They just need to put on some weight, they need to learn how to eat,” she said, her voice choking, breaking into tears. “Sorry, it’s really difficult.”
Now Martin wonders if her sons could have avoided this difficult start to life if it hadn’t been for the stress of trying to get an answer from EDD to get the money she was entitled to.
“It feels like something out of a dystopian novel,” she said. “This shouldn’t happen in real life. The government shouldn’t be able to directly impact the well-being of my infant sons. Before they’re even in this world, make them to be impacted by a government agency in such a negative and profound way…it’s mind-blowing.”
RELATED: Nearly 1 Million Self-Employed Suddenly Had to Prove They Deserved EDD Benefits or Pay It All Back
The hardest part, she says, is leaving the two babies in the hospital every night.
“Just being separated from your kids, nothing can ever prepare you for that,” Martin said as tears streamed down his face.
She shows photos of the two little boys swaddled in their cribs at the hospital. It brings a smile.
“My husband and I spend a good four hours with them every day and work hard to stay positive,” she said.
Still, Martin had no EDD advantage. ABC7 spoke to an EDD rep about little boys struggling to live.
EDD responded quickly.
“It was such a blessing…I’m so, so grateful,” Martin said.
The EDD made all the arrears.
VIDEO: EDD tells young woman to prove she’s a hard worker, then kicks her out as deadline approaches
But the best gift?
After 19 days in the NICU, the boys were both home, now cuddled up in their cribs in a yellow-decorated nursery, their pajamas matching their printed sheets.
“They’re here and they’re healthy,” Martin said with a breath of relief.
“It’s River,” Martin said, holding the older twin. “And the forest.” She cradles the younger twin, now breathing on his own.
“I can’t say enough how much I appreciate your help,” she said. “It was exactly what I needed when I needed it.”
Note: EDD says it works as fast as possible to separate fraudulent disability claims from real ones. It all started when scammers stole the identities of thousands of California doctors and used their credentials to authorize fake claims. This means that thousands of people who really need disability benefits have been left without them. If that’s you, let 7 On Your Side know.
Check out more stories and videos from Michael Finney and 7 On Your Side.
Do you have a question for Michael and the 7 On Your Side team? Fill out the form HERE! The 7OYS Consumer Helpline is a free mediation service for consumers in the San Francisco Bay Area. We help individuals with substance-related problems; we cannot act on business-to-business cases or cases involving family law, criminal cases, landlord and tenant disputes, labor issues, or medical issues. Please see our FAQs here. As part of our support process, it is necessary that we contact the company/agency you are writing about. If you do not want us to contact them, please let us know immediately, as this will affect our ability to work on your case. Due to the high volume of emails we receive, please allow 3-5 business days for a response.
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