The analysis estimates $66.9 million total in improper payments in Oklahoma between July 2008 and June 2011. A commission news release states the actual amount was just less than $25 million. The amounts differed so greatly because the commission counted each overpayment claim, whereas Department of Labor statistics were projected based on a random sample, the release said.
In recent years, the commission has increased efforts to detect improper payments, Carpenter said. The agency has made internal changes to increase efficiency. Changes have allowed the commission to review more cases and catch more improper payments, he said.
In addition to tips the agency gets from concerned residents and random sample audits, the commission uses two data-driven methods to discover improper payments have been made, he said.
At the end of every quarter, the commission cross matches unemployment benefit payment data with wage report data employers file, Carpenter said. An investigation is done if benefits and wages were drawn at the same time.
The commission also does weekly comparisons of the people receiving benefits with the new hire reporting system. Federal law requires each state to track new hires as a method to enforce child-support payments. The Department of Labor now requests that the state concentrate on new hire data as the primary method to discover improper unemployment payments, Carpenter said. However, the requirement is "a law without any teeth," he said.
"While it's set out employers have to do this, there's no penalty in the law," he said.
It is his impression that about half of employers within the state report, Carpenter said. A commission news release estimated employer compliance to be as low as 30 percent.
The registry could be the commission's best tool for finding improper payments if every business reported new hires, he said.
"If every employer in the state reported on that, we would certainly have the ability to track more of these improper payments when people go back to work," Carpenter said.
The unemployment system can be overwhelming for employers, said Brett Baker, who owns Part-Time Pros with his wife, Carey.
Baker said he did not have an HR background when the couple started the temporary work agency for professionals.
"It's just a confusing system," he said. "But maybe that's because of my lack of education of it too."
Baker hired an HR consultant after it got to the point he was spending a day each week handling paperwork and proof for claims, he said.
"I hired someone a year ago because I grew so frustrated," he said.
Joe Schulte, owner of Southwood Landscape and Nursery, said he believes the unemployment insurance system works. The 10 days employers have to return paperwork when a claim is filed against them is enough time, he said. Proof the commission requests if a person was fired for reasons such as discipline or tardiness should already be documented and available in the personnel file, he said.
"It seems to work just fine from my perspective," Schulte said. "It's a matter of making sure all the t's are crossed and i's are dotted."
When the commission discovers improper payments have been made, the primary goal is to recover the money, Carpenter said.
"When you get down to it, one of the most important things to us is getting that money back as soon as possible," he said.
In 2003, the commission began a garnishment program to recover the money directly from people's paychecks.
The program cannot recoup the entire value of the payments, Carpenter said. But it is a dramatic improvement over the previous situation, when the agency relied on the claimant to pay the money back.
The commission also intercepts state tax refunds to recoup money, he said. Next year the agency will intercept federal tax refunds and lottery winnings.
People who committed fraud are denied from filing for unemployment benefits for up to two years, he said.
Legislation pending this session would add a penalty of 25 percent of the amount of the original overpayment in fraud cases.
Currently, those who receive improper payments due to fraud or claimant error are charged 1 percent interest each month the payment is not repaid.
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