Local News

Docking checks stopped, but when will ESC repay jobless?

Posted October 15, 2010 4:31 p.m. EDT
Updated October 15, 2010 6:57 p.m. EDT

Employment Security Commission building

— More than a week after a team of computer experts were dispatched to the state Employment Security Commission, officials are still trying to sort out problems plaguing the agency.

Two weeks ago, Gov. Beverly Perdue ordered the ESC to stop docking unemployed North Carolina residents for jobless benefits that they mistakenly received this year and to waive repayment of the $28 million that was improperly paid.

A computer programming error led to overpayments to about 38,000 people receiving a second year of benefits. The mistakes started with checks issued in January, and they continued after an internal audit caught the problem in mid-May.

Last month, the agency began sending letters to people to inform them of the errors and to detail how much they might owe. ESC officials said many of the people receiving letters would end up owing nothing, and about 15 percent were underpaid and would be eligible to receive more money.

Calling the situation "ludicrous" and "absurd," Perdue sent IT experts from the state budget office to the ESC to resolve the computer problem and expedite the repayment of money to people who had seen some of their weekly benefit checks cut in half.

ESC spokesman Larry Parker said Friday that the agency had started making repayments, but he couldn't say how much had been repaid, how much was still left to repay or how long the agency expected the process to take.

The episode left Perdue frustrated with the ESC's management, but she hasn't yet taken any action on appointing new leadership at the agency.

Mark Johnson, a spokesman for Perdue, said Friday that the governor wants to rectify the problems at ESC before deciding whether management changes are needed.

The ESC also continues to work with the U.S. Department of Labor on a plan for the state to repay the federal government the $28 million in overpayments, Parker said.

The mistake also created other problems for the ESC. Parker said the agency had to delaying launching a job search program because its computer system couldn't be shut down to install it.