PHOENIX - Remember the countless issues tens of thousands of Arizonans had trying to collect unemployment last year?
A state audit of the Department of Economic Security (DES) attempted to find some of the reasons why that was the case.
What the audit found, is that it all came down to accuracy. Meaning, whether a claimant should receive the money and whether the department made the correct choice.
Pinetop resident Randi Rosen waited three months for her unemployment benefits to restart in 2020.
"It’s scary, it’s really scary. I thought for sure things were going to come down real hard and I’d have no control," Rosen said.
She says DES eventually restarted her benefits after some sort of paperwork issue, but she questions why it took so long.
"This adjudicator didn’t have a direct line," Rosen said. "I would never ever, ever talk to them. So it was very, very odd. Very odd."
A new yearly report by the state auditor general found underlying causes for countless issues.
The new state audit finds that the DES team in charge of accuracy lost half its workforce before the pandemic and no one ensured they were properly trained.
They also reviewed 25 cases at random and found two were not reviewed, signed or completed. A third had "no documentation" the investigation was ever even performed.
In a statement, DES responded by saying, in part, "It’s important to note that all three of the investigators’ conclusions were ultimately correct. In response to the findings, DES enhanced the standard work used by the teams while performing reviews, and increased internal reviews of investigative case files and reviews."
"Be prepared. Be ready for it. I think they failed miserably. Miserably," Rosen said about the audit.
Read the department's full statement below:
"As stated for your report in December 2020, the unprecedented surge in unemployment brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic impacted the entire nation. A significant strain was also placed on our staff and our systems, and we responded with aggressive hiring, rapid improvement to our processes and determinations as we worked quickly to get UI benefits to those who qualified. While no one could have expected just how significant an impact the pandemic was going to have, we acknowledge there were issues with the Unemployment Insurance program throughout the pandemic. The Department is committed to transparency and continuous improvement and we continue to use opportunities like audits to diligently resolve and improve upon issues and systems.
For context, DES performs, on average, more than 900 Benefit Accuracy Measurement (BAM) reviews annually, in accordance with the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) as well as internal state policies and procedures. However, as communicated in a previous response, U.S. DOL did permit the temporary suspension of BAM reviews as part of the pandemic-related flexibilities afforded to states, which allowed us to prioritize redeploying staff to adjudicate claims in order to provide benefits as quickly as possible to eligible claimants.
Regarding the BAM team mention in the Annual Single audit, of the three case files in question, two files simply did not include an investigator’s signature and one file did not include the necessary investigator notes. However, it’s important to note that all three of the investigators’ conclusions were ultimately correct. In response to the findings, DES enhanced the standard work used by the teams while performing reviews, and increased internal reviews of investigative case files and reviews."
Department of Economic Security Audit
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