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Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz filed for unemployment even as city checks kept coming

Two months into his first term as a council member, and with his city checks still coming, Huntington Beach Mayor Pro Tem Tito Ortiz filed an unemployment claim with the California Employment Development Department.

Public records show that Ortiz, whose legal name is Jacob C. Ortiz, sought unemployment benefits on Feb. 22 of this year. He gave his first day of work as Dec. 7, 2020, when he was sworn in after comfortably winning his seat in the November election. He stated that his last day of work was Feb. 9, 2021, although he still serves on the council.

On the portion of the unemployment application that asks for a “reason for separation,” Ortiz listed, “Still working part time or on call – related to the coronavirus (COVID-19).”

Ortiz did not return calls asking for comment.

Council members, who work part time, have continued to receive their stipends and expense allowances throughout the coronavirus crisis, said Huntington Beach City Manager Oliver Chi. Paychecks go out every two weeks covering a stipend of $81 and an expense allowance of $698 – for a total of $779. The city officials also can opt to chip in for group medical insurance.

Chi said he does not yet know if Ortiz’s claim has been approved.

“Unemployment claims are managed through the EDD,” Chi said. “The city is notified of claims and we provide requested information. The EDD makes the determination.”

When businesses had to shut down due to the pandemic in March of last year, Congress passed a stimulus relief package that included extra help for those who lost their jobs.

“The American Rescue Plan of 2021 adds $300 in federal funds to each week of benefits through September 4, 2021,” an unnamed EDD spokesperson said in an email. “Outside of that, a claimant who qualifies for unemployment insurance can expect their weekly benefit amount to range from $40-$450.”

The spokesperson said an elected public official who loses income from that position potentially could qualify for unemployment benefits.

Ortiz, who made a name as a mixed martial arts champion, owns two Huntington Beach businesses – Punishment Athletics clothing store and Punishment Training Center gym. He has a house in Huntington Harbour worth about $4 million.

People who simultaneously have worked for multiple employers do not receive multiple checks from the federal government. “The extra $300 in benefits per week is on a per claimant basis and not a per employer basis,” the EDD spokesperson said.

Huntington Beach has continued with its regular twice-monthly city council meetings since the start of coronavirus.

In mid-January, the city decided to hold council meetings by Zoom due to the surge in COVID-19 cases. Even after cornonavirus numbers fell, five council members voted to keep meetings virtual after Ortiz insisted he would not wear a mask inside City Hall. “I’ll show up and do my job,” Ortiz said at the March 29 meeting. “And if I get escorted out by police that’s you guys’ choice.”

Such antics repeatedly have landed Ortiz in hot water – or, at least, in viral videos.

At his swearing in, Ortiz called the pandemic the “plandemic,” in reference to the debunked notion that its danger has been cynically exaggerated. Only days later, Ortiz spoke at a “stop the steal” pro-Trump rally where he told fans, “I ain’t taking that (coronavirus) vaccine – hell no!” 

In January, he posted a video on social media blasting a popular Huntington Beach hamburger joint for refusing to serve him unless he put on a mask. After that incident, three council members authored a proposal to strip Ortiz of his mayor-pro-tem title – but the agenda item ultimately fizzled. Ortiz later apologized for denigrating the restaurant.

California’s employment department has encountered its own problems during the coronavirus catastrophe. In January, officials confirmed that more than $11 billion in unemployment benefits paid during the pandemic involve fraud.

According to the EDD spokesperson, the agency is working “to zero in on legitimate claimants and weed out scammers.”

“EDD continues to partner with federal, state, and local authorities in fighting the work of scammers assaulting unemployment insurance programs across the country,” the spokesperson said.

“We are committed to fighting the occurrence of fraud so our valuable resources can be dedicated to workers legitimately in need of unemployment benefits when they lose their job or their hours are reduced through no fault of their own.”

The application includes language aimed at preventing people from filing bogus claims: “The answers you give to the questions on this application must be true and correct. You may be subject to penalties if you make a false statement or withhold information.”

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