Local News

Troubled NC Unemployment System Gets New Leader

Posted May 27, 2020 4:20 p.m. EDT

For years, WRAL Investigates chronicled troubles inside North Carolina’s Employment Security Commission, now called the Division of Employment Security. Those troubles became even more noticeable with a flood of new unemployment claims because of the coronavirus pandemic.

Since mid-March, the system has been swamped by 1.3 million claims, representing 955,000 people out of work. Some had to file twice based on the type of coverage they qualified for. Of those 955,000, about two thirds have received payments.

"I’m sorry," said Lockhart Taylor, Assistant Secretary and head of Employment Security, as complaints piled up from people who couldn’t get into the system to file claims or get answers about why they’re claims were taking so long.

Now, Taylor is out of the top job at Employment Security. In a press release from the Department of Commerce, it says Taylor was shifted to another role at the Department of Commerce. Longtime democratic lawmaker Pryor Gibson is in. He’s a former adviser to Governor Bev Perdue and recent leader of Governor Roy Cooper’s Hometown Strong initiative.

We asked another longtime democratic leader if he thought Gibson was a better person for the job. "Well, the governor’s office apparently thought so" responded state Senator Dan Blue.

The two have worked together for 30 years. Blue hopes the change at the top will lead to improvements, but it’s not a guarantee, "Maybe this shake-up will bring a new approach to it, but again, you’re not going to make the numbers go away and these numbers will overwhelm any system."

"The next person needs to be able to stay on top of things," says Annette Holcomb, a hair stylist who went two months without unemployment before getting her job back. Holcomb welcomes the change in leadership, "They need to get it done. These people have been waiting long enough. I’ve been waiting long enough…. no fault of my own…mmm…mmm."

Taylor was appointed to the job in November of 2017. He clearly inherited problems. WRAL Investigates previously reported on the state unemployment office’s trouble with meeting federal guidelines to get unemployment checks out of the door. For more than a decade, North Carolina has been at or near the bottom when it comes to processing claims within a 14-to-21 day window compared to other states. The year Taylor took over, North Carolina get 74% of checks out in the desired time. That percentage dropped to 58% each of the following two years. the U.S. Department of Labor says states should be getting 87% of claims processed in that 14-to-21 day window, well above North Carolina’s performance.

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