California State Senator supports legislation to ban ousted officials from receiving unemployment benefits
In the wake of news that former Rosemead councilman John Nunez has been collecting unemployment benefits since losing his council seat, state Sen. Gloria Romero, D-Los Angeles, said Thursday she is prepared to propose legislation that would prohibit such a practice.
"As elected officials, we are here to give, to serve, not here to take, get or receive. We do not run for a job. We are public servants. The people are not the employers, the people are the people and we are here to serve them," Romero said.
Romero said she was "fundamentally disappointed" in Nunez, who she supported as a candidate. She called on him to end his unemployment claim.
Nunez served on the Rosemead City Council for one four-year term. His effort at re-election in March was unsuccessful - he came in last among six candidates.
Since then he has collected more than $11,000 in unemployment benefits and continues to collect $450 a week, according to city manager Jeff Allred. The city is directly billed for those benefits.
Nunez said this week he is doing nothing wrong - the California Employment Development Department accepted his claim.
"I've committed no fraud," he said Tuesday.
Patrick Joyce, spokesman for the state EDD, which manages unemployment benefits in the state, said the department considers losing an election similar to being laid off for lack of work.
"The policy is that when an elected official loses an election, they are considered to have lost their job through no fault of their own, and considered eligible for (unemployment insurance) benefits as long as qualify under other conditions," Joyce said.
"On a technicality it appears one can do this, but it is one of those issues that doesn't pass the smell test," Romero said.
Romero and other officials are worried about the precedent he could set for other elected officials voted out of office.
"To some extent, any member who is termed out of office, does this mean they can collect unemployment?," Romero asked. "Workers fought for unemployment and there is a reason for it. But I don't believe any of our forefathers and foremothers who fought for unemployment insurance thought it was going to be politicians who would collect."
Romero and officials in cities throughout the San Gabriel Valley are unaware of any other ousted elected official ever collecting unemployment benefits.
Romero is following up with both the EDD and the Senate's legislative council to determine what types of policy changes could be made to prohibit the practice. She said she would sponsor legislation if necessary.
"If we do not handle this now, it could mean with term limits, you could have a bunch of elected officials turning to the public dime to collect money the unemployment insurance movement was never intended for," Romero said.
Legislative staff could have an informal opinion about whether legislation is necessary within five days and a formal written opinion in one month.
Nunez, 61, said he has been looking for full-time work in government, at a city, school district or Los Angeles County, but has had no success.