Official says feds got Indiana error rate wrong

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Indiana makes a lot of errors on unemployment insurance benefits, the White House and U.S. Labor Department said Wednesday, but the state official overseeing those payments said federal officials are making mistakes of their own.

The White House said new Labor Department efforts "to crack down on waste, fraud and abuse" included an online map showing states' insurance payment error rates and turnaround plans for Indiana and five other states. The online map showed Indiana's rates was 43.56 percent over the last three years, higher than any other state's except Louisiana's 43.63 percent.

Workforce Development Commissioner Mark Everson said 80 percent of Indiana's errors were caused by work search issues and "employment search registrations." He blamed the latter on improperly completed registrations for Indiana Career Connect, the state's online job board.

Everson blamed the high rate of job search issue errors on an online form that asks jobless benefit recipients to list as many as three jobs they applied for over the previous week, when only one job application per week is required by law. In some cases, recipients listed only one job applied for or incomplete information on the other two.

"They characterize these as 'waste, fraud and abuse.' That's a serious allegation, and that's just flat out wrong," Everson said in a telephone interview.

On other causes of improper payments, Indiana's results were in line with other states', he said.

Federal officials "are saying in essence that 121,000 Hoosiers a year were improperly paid" jobless benefits, Everson said, but he disagrees and believes the payments were justified.

Labor Department spokesman Dave Roberts said Indiana and the five other high-priority states — Louisiana, Virginia, Colorado, Washington and Arizona — will receive technical assistance from the federal agency in taking steps to reduce their error rates.

Everson acknowledge Indiana has some more work to do in some areas that contribute to its overall error rate.

"We're working hard to address and improve our program," he said.

Information linked to the online map said Indiana has a plan in place to implement all but two strategies the Labor Department to improve its error rate. Indiana "was not on track" to implement a statewide claimant and employer messaging campaign to improve "awareness regarding their responsibilities to satisfy the [unemployment insurance] program requirements. … Indiana has not indicated their commitment to implement this core strategy in their initial State Quality Service Plan submission to the Department," Roberts said in an email message.

Everson said he was not aware of the problem and had no comment on it.

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