SACRAMENTO, Calif. (KRON) — The director of California’s Employment Development Department, Rita Saenz, will be replaced by Nancy Farias, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Friday afternoon.

Farias served as the EDD’s Chief Deputy Director of External Affairs, Legislation and Policy since 2020. She will be sworn in for her new role as director by Newsom on Tuesday Feb. 1.

“Nancy Farias has played an invaluable role in the Department’s ongoing efforts to strengthen the state’s unemployment system and implement improvements to better support hardworking Californians when they need it most,” Newsom said in a statement. “I look forward to her partnership in this all-important work to help California’s families, businesses and communities continue to recover and thrive.”

Saenz was EDD director since Dec. 2020. She will move into the role of the state’s Commissioner on the California Commission on Aging.

“I am proud of the many reforms and new programs EDD put in place during the last year, and Nancy Farias has the energy and direct experience to keep this positive momentum going,” Saenz said in a statement. “ … I was privileged to work directly with Nancy Farias during this important time of transformation at EDD.”

Last November, the EDD granted assistance for roughly 100,000 seeking pandemic unemployment assistance.

These included workers who refused to work for an employer that violated COVID-19 safety standards, were laid off, or had hours reduced as a direct result of COVID-19.

At the same time, the department has also been criticized for its handling of illegitimate and illegal requests. Estimates put the amount of total fraud money handed out by the EDD at around $20 billion.

The EDD announced earlier this month that they had halted payments on 345,000 disability claims associated with 27,000 suspicious doctors. On Thursday, the department announced it had verified the identity of just 485 of those doctors — meaning about 98% of them are likely fraudulent. 

“It’s shocking,” said Jamie Court, president of Consumer Watchdog. “We’ve had fraud, we’ve had payments gone amiss, we have a department with a computer system that’s ancient, and we’ve had privacy problems. And the problems just keep going on and on.” 

Read Saenz’s internal message to EDD employees in full below.

Good afternoon,

This year has been an eventful one, following a just as eventful year before. During this time I have had the privilege to work with you, a brilliant and dedicated staff. It has been such a pleasure. I have great respect for the hard work, flexibility, and fortitude you’ve shown. I hope that I have shown to you my appreciation of the hard work and difficulties we have faced together. I joined you with the knowledge that my time at EDD would be limited. And, now it is time for me to hand over the reins of the department.

My work at EDD with you will always hold a special place in my heart. The Governor has appointed your new director, no stranger, Nancy Farias, currently Chief Deputy Director of External Affairs, Legislation, and Policy. She will be sworn in on Tuesday.

You may have had a chance to work directly with her during her time here. If not, everyone who has worked with her can assure you she has the best interest of the Department at heart. She has worked tirelessly during these last 16 months alongside everyone else, leading, strategizing, and initiating new strategies. She has had a major hand in the transformations that are now taking place at EDD, and will continue to see them through. I am pleased to offer her my best wishes, and I hope you do too.

Rita Saenz, EDD Director

The Associated Press contributed to this report.