(The Center Square) — A recent memo from Washington's Employment Security Department sheds light on interagency conflict over an audit of the state's job claims system.
According to a November 18 memo obtained by the Seattle Times, ESD Commissioner Suzi Levine complained to Director of State Audit and Special Investigations Sadie Armijo about a planned audit of the department's systems.
In it, Levine claimed the state auditor's office had not submitted a valid reason to conduct a regularly scheduled audit of the department.
Levine claimed further that unnecessary audits would only worsen the "maximally stressful environment" department employees are subjected to.
In a letter sent to Levine on October 20, Washington Auditor Pat McCarthy stated that the department was deliberately and unreasonably delaying access to needed documents.
"If ESD continues on this path, we will report that management interference prevented us from fully completing the audits," McCarthy wrote.
According to Chapter 9.12 of the federal auditing standards outlined by the Government Accountability Office, auditors are required to "describe the scope of the work performed and any limitations" and "report any significant constraints imposed on the audit approach by information limitations or scope impairments."
Levine denied any wrongdoing in an official statement released on Sunday.
“Our agency has welcomed these audits from the beginning and we continue to do so,” Levine wrote. “We remain firmly committed to full transparency and are collaborating closely with the State Auditor and her staff, as we have all along."
The ESD will see five audits the first of which is due in December. The concern, among other issues, the department's $650 million in fraudulent payments that were stolen by cyber thieves earlier this year.
Levine announced in September the ESD had recovered $420 million at the time.
Tara Lee, communications director for Gov. Jay Inslee's office, said the governor is "aware of the issues and don’t see any that are unresolvable."
As COVID-19 case numbers have risen across Washington, so have jobless claims.
The ESD reported that 158,025 claims were filed during the week of March 28 compared to just 63,908 claims from the previous week. The state's unemployment numbers have hovered in the six figures ever since.
The week of November 21 saw 158,090 new unemployment claims.
The state is now bracing for another wave of claims following Inslee's month-long shutdown in response to surging COVID-19 cases.
Millions of Washingtonians and millions more Americans stand to lose their unemployment benefits by the end of the year when the federal CARES Act expires on December 31.
Prior to the pandemic, most states paid out unemployment benefits for 26 weeks, including Washington where claimants receive between $201 and $844.
Under the federal CARES Act passed in March, the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance and Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation programs extended these benefits 39 weeks.
Based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor released October 17, around 13.3 million people stand to lose the extended benefits they were collecting through these two programs.
Congress is slated to convene for only 18 more days this year and has not signaled whether or not more federal aid will be passed by its end.