I KNOW THE OFFICIAL NAME is the Employment Security Commission, but everywhere I have ever lived, everyone, without a hint of sarcasm, calls it the Unemployment Office – because that is what it is. It is where you go when you are unemployed.
Recently, in one of the latest installments in a bewildering series of incompetencies, malfeasances and corruptions uncovered in our state's government, we learned that the Employment Security Commission of North Carolina overpaid tens of thousands of the unemployed workers in our state by tens of millions of dollars – and then, to rectify the problem – demanded full repayment or it was going to severely cut their checks – with barely any notice – for a problem not of their doing.
This problem, and its problematic solution, had been brewing for a while. The U.S. Department of Labor said this week that it notified the ESC of the programming errors last November, almost a year ago, after a routine review it conducted with all states. State auditors found that the ESC was making numerous mistakes when calculating benefits, particularly for those receiving federal stimulus dollars, said Dennis Patterson, a spokesman for the state auditor's office.
"It was a whole pile of different things," Patterson added, providing an image evocative of a smell emanating from a cattle yard.
Originally, auditors discovered about $190,000 in overpayments after looking at a sample of about 4,500 cases. The ESC told auditors it knew about the problem and was working to rectify it. Patterson said state auditors did not know the scope of the overpayments until last week when the ESC announced about 38,000 recipients had been overpaid $28 million.
The ESC’s Information Services Section, which originally programmed the errors, is also responsible for programming the fixes to halt the overpayments to long-term unemployed workers, said Patterson.
Although I am aware that our state's unemployment rate is quite high, I think it should be higher as some of those currently employed at the Employment Security Commission should instead be availing themselves of its services – after being terminated from their jobs there.
This week Governor Beverly Perdue announced the repayment of these overpayments would be waived. Maybe she has the authority to forgive these overpayments, but I don’t know where it comes from. Just for the record it is not her money, it is yours and mine.
It is reported that the ESC is continuing to negotiate with the U.S. Department of Labor about how to resolve the funding for the overpayments. I can tell you this: it will be repaid with tax dollars, one way or the other, so get out your wallets.
"I'm going to find out why something so ludicrous happened," said Perdue.
"I've got to fix the system,” Perdue is also quoted as saying. "I've got to fix the leadership team to be sure we have people in place who can do what they need to do," she said. "I'm not at all reluctant to ask somebody to leave my administration,” she added.
Personally I think that the governor is on the right track. To get to the bottom of all of this, the governor should go to the top.
Given the all the recent revelations concerning the poor, pathetic and/or perverse performance of her administration (including, but not limited to, the State Bureau of Investigation, state parole office, state board of elections, state mental health services, state Highway Patrol, state Department of Transportation, state Alcoholic Beverage Control, state School for the Deaf, and state’s UNC-TV – not to overstate things – but also adding the fines levied after the “hasty” investigation of her state gubernatorial campaign for undeclared contributions-in-kind in the form of 42 unreported, privately funded flights), maybe Governor Perdue should consider asking Governor Perdue to resign.
Gary D. Gaddy used to work for the state of North Carolina before he had to let himself go.
A version of this story was published in the Chapel Hill Herald on Friday October 8, 2010.
Copyright 2010 Gary D. Gaddy