(The Center Square) — A recent memo from the Washington Department of Employment Security sheds light on the interagency dispute over an audit of the state’s employment claims system.
According to a November 18 note obtained by The Seattle Times, ESD Commissioner Suzi Levine complained to Director of State Audit and Special Investigations Sadie Armijo about a planned audit of the department’s systems.
In it, Levine claimed that the state auditor’s office did not present a valid reason for conducting a regular audit of the department.
Levine further asserted that unnecessary audits would only aggravate the “extremely stressful environment” to which department employees are subjected.
In one letter sent to Levine on October 20, Washington Auditor Pat McCarthy said the department was deliberately and unreasonably delaying access to necessary documents.
“If ESD continues on this path, we will report that management interference prevented us from completing the audits,” McCarthy wrote.
According to chapter 9.12 of the federal auditing standards According to the Government Accountability Office, auditors are required to “describe the scope of the work performed and any limitations” and to “point out any significant constraints imposed on the audit approach by information limitations or alterations in scope”.
Levine denied any wrongdoing in an official statement released Sunday.
“Our agency has hosted these audits from the beginning and we continue to do so,” Levine wrote. “We remain firmly committed to full transparency and are working closely with the State Auditor and her staff, as we always have.”
The ESD will see five audits, the first of which is scheduled for December. They relate, among other things, to the $650 million in fraudulent departmental payments that were stolen by cyberthieves earlier this year.
Levine announced in September that ESD had scooped up $420 million at the time.
Tara Lee, director of communications for Governor Jay Inslee’s office, said the governor is “aware of the issues and sees none that are unsolvable.”
As the number of COVID-19 cases has increased in Washington, so have unemployment claims.
The ESD reported that 158,025 claims were filed in the week of March 28, compared to just 63,908 claims the previous week. The state’s unemployment numbers have hovered in the six digits since.
The week of November 21 saw 158,090 new jobless claims.
The state is now bracing for another wave of claims after Inslee’s one month break in response to the surge in COVID-19 cases.
Millions of Washingtonians and millions of other Americans are at risk of losing their unemployment benefits by the end of the year, when the federal CARES law expires Dec. 31.
Before the pandemic, most states paid unemployment benefits for 26 weeks, including Washington where claimants received between $201 and $844.
Under the federal CARES Act passed in March, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs extended those benefits by 39 weeks.
Based on Data of the US Department of Labor published on October 17, approximately 13.3 million people are at risk of losing the extended benefits they received through these two programs.
Congress is only expected to meet for 18 more days this year and has not indicated whether or not additional federal aid will pass by the end of it.