|By David Ranii, The News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)|
|McClatchy-Tribune Information Services|
Agency officials say the delays stem from an increased effort to crack down on paying benefits to workers who actually aren't entitled to receive them and changes in the state unemployment benefits system that went into effect in July.
"These are folks who don't make a lot of money and are living paycheck to paycheck," Tine said.
Folwell said the agency is working aggressively to whittle down its adjudication backlog and hopes to have it cleared by the end of March. The backlog was about 12,000 in January, up from 7,296 in July, according to Employment Security.
But Folwell also stressed the importance of avoiding issuing checks that workers aren't entitled to.
"We have been overpaying (unemployment claims) in
He also told Tine that the constituents he's hearing from may not be telling the whole story. "There's a bigger wart on their claim, maybe, than they are willing to tell you about," Folwell said.
Avoiding claims overpayments is especially important under the new state unemployment benefits system that went into effect in July, Folwell told legislators.
"We are now compelled to go after people who we have incorrectly paid out, even if there is an administrative reversal" months afterward, he said. "To simply pay somebody and then chase it down is a ridiculous use of our energy."
Steps the agency can take to recoup overpayments include garnishing wages after an employee finds a job or tapping state and federal income tax refunds.
When Folwell became head of the division last year, he ended the agency's practice of paying claims even before receiving paperwork from the employer that shows whether the worker actually is entitled to the benefits.
Forty percent of employers don't report the circumstances of an employee's departure "on a timely basis," Folwell said.
Folwell said the state is sending out benefits checks within 21 days of a claim being filed in nearly 100 percent of the cases if "what the claimant says and what the employer says matches up."
The delays come into play, he said, when there's a discrepancy between the accounts by the two parties.
"We have to adjudicate that," he said.
"Last year we paid out 80 percent of the claims in the first 21 days," Folwell said. "What we are talking about is the toughest of the tough."
Problems in reaching both workers and employers for the information needed to adjudicate the claim contribute to delays, he said.
According to state data,
The federal standard calls for paying 87 percent of claims within 21 days.
Also clogging up the claims system, Folwell said, is that under the new unemployment system each employee who is furloughed must file their own unemployment claim for the weeks they're not being paid. Previously, employers could file the paperwork for the employees.
The federal government also is pressuring the state to handle claims correctly.
That notification lists the state's overpayment rate for the 12-month period ending
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