Democrat Governor Jay Inslee has a huge problem on his hands that he is desperately trying to avoid being held accountable for his poor management. It seems that, despite claiming it takes unemployment insurance fraud ‘very seriously’, the inappropriately-named Employment Security Department (ESD) for Washington State has lost hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars to Nigerian scammers.
It’s no laughing matter, but really? Don’t most of us know by now not to click on the email link from a Nigerian Prince.
Inslee’s ESD is plagued with problems. Consider the current situation at the department which many Washington residents are depending on to financially survive the coronavirus crisis: Delays in benefit payouts or no payouts at all, the inability to correctly tell anyone what is going on with benefits payments, and a hold wait-time that makes the Department of Motor Vehicles seem quick by comparison.
There has been an absolute failure by the ESD leaders to realize the magnitude of the problems quickly enough and being transparent with what they plan on doing to make things right.
ESD Commissioner Suzi LeVine has claimed repeatedly that the source of the data breach used for the fraudulent claims did not come from inside the agency. She was forced to admit that fraud was happening at her department before the coronavirus emergency hit in March. The question is then, if the problem existed before, why didn’t Commissioner LeVine deal with earlier?
Other questions that come to mind – why have some claimants not received their benefits yet? What will happen when the money runs out in the trust fund?
And a big one that Governor Inslee is avoiding answering – when was he told about ESD’s fraud problem? And when will he come before the public to explain why he and his appointees failed to protect taxpayer dollars? (Inslee abruptly cancelled his Thursday press conference when the magnitude of the scam became public and on Friday Inslee only communicated with the public via written statements.)
These are the questions that Washington citizens demands and deserve answers for. There are hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars that are now gone due to errors within the Inslee Administration. The problem is incredibly significant and wasn’t created overnight. It appears to be a systematic breakdown in ESD’s processes and systems over the last few years – which administrators knew about and could not, or would not, fix.
For most leaders, the buck stops at the top. Unfortunately, we have Governor Inslee, who appointed Commissioner LeVine in 2018, and he has yet to offer any real solutions to the problems in his administration.
In a press release in March, Inslee said that he supported emergency rules to strengthen programs and increase the flexibility of the state’s unemployment insurance program. That flexibility apparently included the ability to steal millions of dollars, which the Nigerian fraudsters really appreciate.
The rapidly shrinking employment trust fund will have a significant impact on state revenues, and this problem is publicly being ignored by Inslee and his team. The fund will need to be replenished. The money will likely come in proposed higher taxes, recommended by the governor. Since Inslee and the Democrats in Olympia have wanted a state income tax for many years, this will likely be the excuse they will use to force a new tax onto the residents of Washington.
Urgency has not exactly been the watchword for the Democrats who control the legislature during this crisis. State Senator Reuven Carlyle, who has presided over the technology committee in the legislature for many years, responded to the immediate crisis by planning to hold a hearing in January 2021. And, in a recent tweet, Democrat Senator Karen Keiser, was stunned by recent reports that we saw huge reductions in payroll tax revenue and higher unemployment in April.
Apparently, the Democrats in both the ESD and the legislature have been asleep at the wheel for the last few months.
It’s laughable to look back at what Inslee said two years ago when he hired LeVine, best known as a major Democrat donor and fundraiser. In the governor’s press release announcing the hire, he said “The staff at ESD have done tremendous work incorporating lean improvements and creating a customer-focused culture that I know Suzi will take to a new level.”
That “new level” of service was certainly noticed by the Nigerian scammers. Unfortunately, Washington citizens dealing with LeVine’s department probably haven’t noticed the “customer-focused culture” as they’ve waited in vain to obtain their much-needed unemployment benefits.
The Employment Security Department needs a massive overhaul in its leadership, programs and systems, and it needs to happen immediately. Waiting until next year to have more hearings is not going to solve the problem for those struggling to make ends meet now.
We also need to elect a Governor this November who will make correct decisions in a crisis and show real leadership.