April 21, 2013

Unemployment claims data suggesting state system not broken

Employers win most unemployment appeals despite the LePage administration's contention that the process is skewed in favor of workers.

By Steve Mistler smistler@pressherald.com
State House Bureau

(Continued from page 2)

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According to a 2010 report by the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, 42 states experienced similar problems with appeals performance.

In the report, state officials explained that a crush of unemployment claims forced the Maine Labor Department to redeploy hearing officers to the front end of the claims system, thus diverting them from a growing caseload of appeals.

Langley, who previously worked for the U.S. Department of Labor and as an auditor in Idaho, described the unemployment system at the time as "a snake eating a rat," with claims and appeals bunched into one, slowly digesting ball.

He also cautioned that because states have widely varying unemployment systems, national average scores are of limited value in assessing how Maine is doing.

"Those U.S. averages tell you average scores, but not much else about the quality of Maine's appeals scores," he said.  

Although workloads have swung widely with economic conditions over the past decade, Maine's unemployment system has produced fairly stable results. State Labor Department records show that employers have consistently prevailed in about 70 percent of the appeals cases heard by hearing officers since 2003.

And for those cases that are taken to the higher level, the Unemployment Insurance Commission, the success rate for employers is closer to 90 percent.

EVIDENCE STILL IN DISPUTE

For the LePage administration, a lack of hard evidence doesn't indicate that the unemployment system isn't broken or in need of improvement.

While the federal Department of Labor auditors were here last week, LePage announced that he would be forming a special bipartisan commission soon to investigate the entire unemployment compensation system.

"Numbers in and of themselves don't tell the entire story," said Deputy Labor Commissioner Richard Freund. "We've heard so often from employers, and the unemployed, and the feedback has been that people have just given up on the system. They don't want to bother appealing because it ends up being too costly and their sense is that they're not getting a fair hearing."

But others are skeptical.

David Webbert, who heads the employment lawyer's group that asked for a federal investigation of the LePage meeting two weeks ago, said the special commission is being set up to give the administration the results it wants. He also maintains that the governor interfered with the adjudicatory process.

Broder, the former hearing officer, said the allegations were troubling.

"I'm concerned about it, especially as someone who does hearings for other state agencies," Broder said.

Asked what she'd do if she felt pressure to decide cases one way or another, she said, "I'd probably quit." 

State House Bureau Writer Steve Mistler can be contacted at 620-7016 or at:

smistler@pressherald.com

On Twitter: @stevemistler

 

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Today's poll: Claims Meeting

Should Gov. Paul LePage have met with state unemployment claims hearing officers?

Yes

No

View Results