The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA


February 27, 2013

Pa. a hotbed of deceit

Improper jobless payouts spur legislation

— That Pennsylvania paid out more in improper unemployment benefits than any other state in the nation should make commonwealth taxpayers furious.

The federal Department of Labor estimates the total overpayments at a whopping $690 million in 2012 alone.

That, according to last week’s report by John Finnerty of CNHI’s Harrisburg Bureau, is three times more in bogus payments than neighboring states New Jersey, New York and Ohio.

Meanwhile, the state Department of Labor and Industry and at least one legislator say they are doing something about this mess.

It’s about time.

Rep. Fred Keller, R-Union County, says he’s ready to introduce a bill that would spell out more clearly that a worker should not qualify for unemployment if he or she loses a job for violating work rules, threatening others in the workplace, showing up for work intoxicated, or repeatedly missing work without a legitimate excuse.

Whether out-of-work individuals are unaware of the rules doesn’t concern us as much as agency workers processing claims for people who don’t qualify.

There are even cases where jailed inmates have been collecting unemployment benefits.

Thankfully, Pennsylvania has launched fraud-busting strategies to prevent people from collecting improper payments and to recoup money from people who should not have received it, Sara Goulet, press secretary for DLI, told Finnerty.

Included, she said, is use of a federal New Hire Database to more quickly identify when people who have been collecting unemployment land jobs. Using the database helped the department decrease improper payments to no-longer-unemployed workers by $30 million from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2012, Goulet said.

In November, the state began notifying nearly 18,000 people that they owed a combined total of almost $81 million and that the Labor Department would intercept their federal tax refunds. The state received $5.3 million this way in just two weeks, so far this year.

While DLI is on the right track, it obviously has a long way to go.

Perhaps, too, this is a prime example of taxpayers losing no matter the circumstances. Some might argue that we can’t have it both ways. When we harp about government waste and bureaucracy, agencies and organizations are forced to cut manpower and services because of budget constraints – and what we get are shoddy work results.

Our response is that other states are doing with less but getting better results. Pennsylvania’s practices and its checks and balances are out of whack, and if the leaders we have in those departments can’t fix the problems, we need to replace them with people who can.

Editor’s note: Two letters concerning this topic appear in Readers’ Forum.


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