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Unemployed Kentuckians react to scathing audit of state’s unemployment system

(AP)
Published: Feb. 12, 2021 at 3:47 AM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - More than 400,000 emails archived and unread, violations of federal law, security breaches gone unreported and high-risk decisions that led to fraud are among some of the issues within Kentucky’s Office of Unemployment Insurance reported by Auditor Mike Harmon in the first volume of the Statewide Single Audit of Kentucky on Tuesday.

“No other business could get away with that,” Mick Duenas said, whose claim has been under investigation for five months.

Duenas told our sister station WAVE 3 News she has not received a cent since before October when her claim was thrown under investigation after she reported in the system she had worked for one day.

“I couldn’t go without paying my mortgage for five months; I couldn’t go without fulfilling your sales order for five months before you take your business elsewhere,” Duenas continued.

Harmon’s report said the Unemployment Office claimed the coronavirus pandemic as a reason for issues, with a reported 49,023 new unemployment claims filed during the week ending March 21, 2020, and an additional 113,149 new claims filed during the week ending on March 28, 2020.

However, according to Harmon’s office, “As of Oct. 29, 2020, the claims backlog of unprocessed, initial jobless claims totaled approximately 80,000. Additionally, OUI had archived more than 400,000 emails the office received through its UI assistance email account that remained unread as of Nov. 9, 2020.”

“I’m lucky I have a house. How many people have been evicted? How many people are living in their cars?” Duenas said. “The fact that they don’t feel a personal responsibility to answer 400,000 requests.”

The report stated pressure from the pandemic “incentivized OUI management to override important system controls” which prevented auditors from tracking the amount of over or underpayments being made through auto-pay.

“The system was overwhelmed but what happened in a time of difficulty, one of the major things that caused a lot of the problems was a decision to set up ‘auto pay,’” Harmon said. “That actually made it worse, and I’m sure it was well-intended. I’m sure the attempt was to get claims out as quickly as possible but that created other problems and left it more vulnerable to fraud.”

“It’s just a never-ending cluster of government bureaucracy going crazy in Kentucky,” Duenas said. “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

“They’re not helping people; things are not getting done, and even the people they are helping, it’s not nearly enough,” Duenas said.

Governor Andy Beshear encouraged Kentuckians still waiting on unemployment benefits to book a phone appointment through kcc.ky.gov.

However, there were no appointments available at the time this article was published.

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