Recent editorials from Tennessee newspapers:
The Commercial Appeal, Memphis, on the state department of labor:
It is disappointing that the Tennessee Department of Labor and Workforce Development still has not figured out how to ensure that everyone receiving unemployment benefits is qualified to do so.
While it is unreasonable to expect the department - or any department that oversees government benefits - to catch every scammer, it is baffling that a more efficient way to access data systems that would flag cheaters has not been developed.
For the second year in a row, state auditors found numerous problems with the state’s unemployment system, including jobless benefits being paid to people not qualified to receive them, along with payments to deceased individuals and felons behind bars.
Last year, an audit found that at least $73 million in jobless benefits had been improperly paid out over the years. This year’s audit found that the cumulative amount had ballooned to $181 million.
That amount is nothing to sneeze at, especially in light of efforts by some conservatives to cut or limit unemployment benefits, with widespread fraud cited as the main reason reductions should occur. Since the amount of misappropriated funds in Tennessee is spread over a number of years, the definition of “widespread” is relative.
Still, the amount of money is significant. The audit findings hurt those who really need the aid by giving benefit critics more ammunition to fire in their push to limit the amount of the benefits and how long the unemployed should receive them. Tennesseans eligible for unemployment receive about $245 a week.
Auditors also said the department’s phone system is wholly inadequate, with those seeking information finding it nearly impossible to get through. The 15 percent of callers lucky to have their calls answered endure nearly an hour of waiting on average.
The fraud and phone system are long-running problems that should be unacceptable to Gov. Bill Haslam, who is running for re-election this year. It is time these problems are fixed.