New state audit of $600 million unemployment fraud

New state audit of $600 million unemployment fraud
Washington state Employment Security Commissioner Suzi LeVine responded on Friday to the first audit of the unemployment fraud that swept the state system. (TVW)

Kimo Wasson is digesting the facts from this new state audit and does not like what he is hearing.

“As a taxpayer, I don’t have any faith in what I hear out of employment security.”

We first met Wasson this summer, when Jesse Jones investigated his travails with Washington Employment Security Division.

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The newly released audit found that through the end of June 2020, the ESD had lost $600 million dollars to fraud — and recovered only about $250 million. ESD says more has been recovered since June for a current total of $357 million. And more audits are coming, says State Auditor Pat McCarthy.

“To ensure that we can have strong systems in place that need to do and can accomplish the jobs that they need to accomplish, while at the same time protecting things from happening like this.”

The audit found ESD had deliberately bypassed the waiting week for benefits to get checks out faster. The head of ESD says it was done at the urging of the federal government.

“The waiting week gave the time for an investigator to take the information from the fraud filter and then work on it. And when new waiting week was removed, unfortunately that time to investigate was removed as well,” said Commissioner Suzi LeVine.

LeVine says her department is already implementing the auditor’s recommendations.

“We’re on the right track. All of their recommendations are things that we are already doing.”

But what about LeVine’s future as head of the department?

“I think that there needs to be change at the top of employment security,” Wasson says. “I don’t understand why Suzy LeVine still has a job.”

Republican leaders agree.

“A high-ranking appointee loses half a billion dollars to Nigerian scammers. And there’s no accountability that just continues to sew mistrust in the government. And I think that’s wrong,” said Auburn State Representative Drew Stokesbary.

Asked if she expects to serve in Governor Inslee’s third term, LeVine responded, “I love the opportunity to serve and have impact. From the interviews and conversations that we’ve had, I have his full support in the work and we’re working closely together.”

Today’s findings are part of the routine audit that ESD undergoes every year. McCarthy says more special audits are underway.