VOL. 126 | NO. 232 | Tuesday, November 29, 2011
Fed Report Questions Tenn. Jobless Benefits
By The Associated Press
NASHVILLE (AP) – A U.S. Department of Labor report has questioned how well Tennessee is overseeing unemployment payments to an estimated 120,000 people as the state’s jobless rate lingers at near historic high levels.
The report obtained by The Chattanooga Times Free Press shows that Tennessee has one of the highest “improper payment” rates in the nation. Only about 10 percent of the workers getting jobless benefits must prove they are actively seeking work.
Tennessee’s rate was 14.47 percent for improper payments, meaning the state overpaid an estimated $310.7 million over a three-year period.
But State Employment Security Administrator Don Ingram blamed the problems in accountability on the huge influx of unemployed workers during the Great Recession, saying that surge overwhelmed the state’s computers.
During the recession, Tennessee’s unemployment rose from 4.6 percent in March 2007 to a high of 10.8 percent in July 2009. Last year, 418,000 Tennesseans filed claims for unemployment benefits.
“It’s not necessarily fraud, and it’s not necessarily an overpayment,” Ingram said. “We did not meet all of the requirements that the U.S. Department of Labor expects so far as processing of claims.”
He said some aspects of the report were misleading because 55 percent of those improper payments were made to workers who were not registered with an employment service or job bank as required by state law.
Ingram said that was a computer problem that they have been trying to fix since 2010.
Just 12,000 to 13,000 people currently receiving unemployment aid in Tennessee have to show they have been looking for a job by submitting weekly forms identifying at least two employers they have contacts. That’s because those workers are getting federally funded extended benefits, which gives an additional 20 weeks of benefits to workers who have exhausted their state and federal emergency benefits.
Tennesseans collecting unemployment benefits must also certify they are looking for work, but they don’t have to provide contact information for potential employers.
Another problem the state is trying to address is doing a better job of educating jobless workers on when benefits end. The labor report said about 28 percent of workers continued to claim and receive benefits after returning to work.
Information from: Chattanooga Times Free Press, http://www.timesfreepress.com
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