Jobs agency reining in overpayments in S.C.

05/06/2013 8:34 PM

05/06/2013 8:35 PM

South Carolina’s unemployment agency reports that it’s overpaying less and recouping more of the excess benefits it does dole out. But state senators said Monday the numbers are not good enough.

“We’re certainly heading in the right direction, but we’ve got work to do,” said Sen. Thomas Alexander, whose Labor Commerce and Industry Committee will grill the next leader of the Department of Employment and Workforce on the subject.

Gov. Nikki Haley named Cheryl Stanton as her choice for the Cabinet agency last week. A labor lawyer in a New York City firm, Stanton formerly worked for the U.S. Department of Labor under President George W. Bush.

Alexander has not yet set a confirmation hearing schedule.

Most overpayments are due to people claiming they’re still unemployed after getting a job. Whether they’re lying or don’t understand the system, overpayments result, said interim director John Finan.

In those cases, DEW employees initially made correct decisions based on the information they had, he said, but crosschecks later with employment rolls discovered the people actually were drawing a paycheck and had been improperly paid for weeks or months. That includes part-time jobs that should reduce weekly benefits.

Another part of the problem is businesses either failing to report or not reporting in a timely manner their new hires to a database as required, delaying errors being caught, said Finan, who became interim director for a second time after former director Abraham Turner resigned Feb. 15.

According to the agency, those two issues accounted for a combined 80 percent of overpayments in the last half of 2012. Mistakes attributed to the agency comprise 5 percent of those recent overpayments, down from 40 percent of all overpayments in 2009-10, when the Legislature overhauled the agency and put it in the governor’s Cabinet.

Legislators have remained highly critical of an overpayment rate that spiked to nearly 18 percent of all benefits paid in 2010-11, representing about $69 million. The rate dropped to 11.6 percent for the last six months of 2012, according to the most recent numbers from the federal labor agency. Of that estimated $15.5 million doled out in excess, the agency got back about $8 million, Finan said.

While that’s progress, “it’s not zero,” said Sen. Kevin Bryant, R-Anderson, a critic of the agency. “Employers are having to pay this.”

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