Kentucky Politics

State Auditor Mike Harmon says at least 10 workers in the state unemployment office improperly filed for benefits last year and used their official positions to access their accounts.

The findings come after a series of reports this year of state employees wrongly filing for jobless benefits despite keeping full-time jobs with the state.

In the audit released Wednesday, Harmon said he couldn’t determine if employees actually made changes to their claims. He said he is referring the findings to the attorney general’s office for possible prosecution.

Harmon, a Republican, said the report shows Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear’s administration mishandled the system during the pandemic.

“While thousands of Kentuckians tried to call or email seeking help about their own claims to no avail, employees within OUI could freely check and possibly even make changes to remove stops on their own claims. Given the more than 400,000 unread emails we learned of previously, this finding only adds to the frustration of those who have waited months for assistance,” Harmon said.

In an audit published earlier this year, Harmon reported the Beshear administration had more than 400,000 unread emails from people seeking help with unemployment benefits.

In the new report, Harmon said 37 state workers improperly collected almost $117,000 in benefits, but only identified 10 employees as unemployment office workers who allegedly accessed their own accounts.

The development comes after a state inspector general investigation, first reported by the Lexington Herald-Leader last week, which revealed that several workers exploited the unemployment system by overriding safeguards.

Last week, Beshear said he took actions against employees involved, including some firings.

“It was people taking advantage of their position and it’s not OK and it denigrates the hard work of every other UI employee that showed up to do the right thing,” Beshear said.

In the new audit, Harmon also criticized the administration for implementing an auto-pay process for benefits, which sped up initial payments before going through a more thorough eligibility process.

Harmon said $655 million in benefits have been awarded through the program, and he raised questions about safeguards.

“We aren’t saying the entire $655 million was wrongly paid, only that there were no controls in place to properly determine and certify claimants’ eligibility, which is a violation of federal law,” Harmon said.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.