1) Unemployment Insurance: Transformation Needed to Address Program Design, Infrastructure, and Integrity Risks (GAO-22-105162)
During the COVID-19 pandemic, historic job losses and demand for benefits worsened existing problems in the unemployment insurance system. Millions of workers faced delays in receiving benefits while the risk of payment errors, including those resulting from fraud, greatly increased.
The Labor Department estimates that payment errors rose from 9.2% of payments to 18.9% ($78.1 billion) from FYs 2020 to 2021.
We see an urgent need to address persistent unemployment insurance system issues that were exacerbated in the pandemic. We are adding this area to our High Risk List and recommending that Labor develop a plan for transforming this system.
2) Pandemic Unemployment Assistance: Federal Program Supported Contingent Workers Amid Historic Demand, but DOL Should Examine Racial Disparities in Benefit Receipt (GAO-22-104438)
To respond to historic job losses during the pandemic, a temporary federal program expanded unemployment benefits to typically-ineligible contingent workers and others.
Issues ramping up the new program to meet urgent, immense demand meant some claimants went months without income. We also found racial disparities in who received benefits in 3 of 4 states we analyzed, e.g., Black applicants were half as likely to obtain benefits as White applicants in 2 states.
Contingent workers who received benefits said the support was critical. We recommended that the Department of Labor assess options to support contingent workers in the future.
3) Unemployment Insurance: Pandemic Programs Posed Challenges, and DOL Could Better Address Customer Service and Emergency Planning (GAO-22-104251)
The nation experienced historic levels of job loss during COVID-19. Congress created 4 new, federally funded temporary unemployment insurance programs to help during this period.
The Department of Labor has worked to support and monitor states' implementation of these programs. However, the department could identify and provide states with comprehensive customer service best practices to better assist them with challenges such as long call wait times. Also, assessing lessons learned from the pandemic could help the department help states with future emergency planning.
We recommended doing so.