Audit points to problems hiring unemployed workers

LANSING, Mich. (AP) — Michigan’s unemployment agency did not require worker background checks or quickly disable former contract and state employees’ computer access to the confidential benefits system amid unemployment claims at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, state auditors said Friday.

Their review concluded that the agency had done an insufficient job of both “onboarding” and “offshoring” thousands of workers to help cope with the deluge of new and continuing demands in 2020. Audit reported four material conditions, the most serious type of finding.

The Unemployment Insurance Agency acknowledged that mistakes had been made and pledged to make improvements.

Auditors found issues with the way the agency contracted with recruiting agencies and delays in blocking some former workers’ ability to use the state network or automated onboarding data system. from Michigan. The agency has also been criticized for not executing or timely implementing data sharing agreements with recruiting agencies and 16 Michigan Works! agencies to protect the confidential information of applicants and employers.

The audit said the agency did not mandate outside agencies to conduct criminal background checks on temporary workers assigned to the state, although the three recruitment agencies told auditors they had conducted them. . Forty-seven workers had at least one felony conviction, including some for financial crimes.

While it wasn’t immediately clear that having a record bars people from working for the agency, the state said it defined the types of convictions that should bar access to the system. automated compensation, according to auditors.

The agency’s director, Julia Dale, who took the helm last fall, said the audit covered a period in which its staff increased more than fivefold to handle record requests.

“As the UIA worked quickly to increase the department’s capacity to meet the needs of Michiganders, the execution was less than perfect,” she said in a statement. “The lessons learned and opportunities articulated by the audit serve as the platform to launch an improved Michigan Unemployment Insurance agency.”

The Detroit News reported this month that the agency has terminated or suspended 18 employees during the pandemic due to ongoing criminal investigations. In 2021, a former contract worker pleaded guilty in a scheme to fraudulently release payment for more than 700 claims, more than 10 of which involved stolen identities. About $3.8 million was paid; more than $8 million were not.

Auditors said it is unlikely the woman’s criminal past prevented her from working at the agency based on its internal hiring criteria, “the establishment and application of more stringent criteria could have done.”

Sen. Mike McDonald, a Republican from Macomb Township, called the audit “alarming” following a report that said the agency paid about $8.5 billion in fraudulent benefits over a period of 19 months.

“I call on the Governor to work with the Legislative Assembly on proactive measures to remedy this situation and ensure that this never happens again,” he said.

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