BUFFALO, N.Y. — Just as New York State’s unemployment compensation program has been the subject of numerous complaints and criticism over the past year, it’s now under more scrutiny from the state comptroller’s office.
Republican state lawmakers are raising even more questions about the state Department of Labor.
As reports of a state comptroller’s office audit of New York’s unemployment compensation program surfaced last week, GOP lawmakers started calling for a wider probe of the system. That includes what they claim is a new burden on small businesses, in particular restaurant owners, trying to recover from major financial losses suffered with dining restrictions from the COVID pandemic.
State Senator Ed Rath III of Williamsville says, “Restaurants have had their unemployment insurance rates increase 200 percent, 300, even 400 percent, and they are $10 billion in the hole right now with the unemployment insurance fund, so they are actually putting additional money into a broken system.”
Some restaurant owners, who can and have applied for federal funding assistance, do tell us there are higher costs for what they are charged for their required contribution as employers. That is even though it appeared earlier this year the state labor department partially lifted some payments, acknowledging business losses.
Of course, the other elements are frustrating communication gaps for residents filing claims, and now fraud as the identities of residents were used by scammers to file claims.
Rath added: “My office has been working very hard with hundreds of residents on their unemployment insurance claims, as well as on their issues with fraud. We’re one state senate office, and we have fielded successfully and accomplished hundreds of challenges.”
The state labor department says it did make changes to provide proper claims for about 4.6 million people, while fighting fraud and stopping payments totaling up to $12 billion to those illegal claimants.
Labor commissioner Roberta Reardon announced upgrades with the use of artificial intelligence and the ID.me platform to defend against identity theft.
Rath responded to that by pointing out: “I guess their current vendor just isn’t working well. No surprise, no shock to any of us that hasn’t been working. But it’s high time we get to the bottom of what’s going on with this Department of Labor unemployment process.”