First published by DCist on May 5, 2021.
D.C.’s Office of the Inspector General said it will audit the city’s Department of Employment Services following months of delayed payments and technical glitches that have left many unemployed workers without income.
D.C. Councilmember Elissa Silverman (I-At Large) announced the audit during a joint oversight roundtable of the agency Wednesday morning.
OIG sent a letter on May 3 informing DOES Director Unique Morris-Hughes that the audit’s objectives will be to assess the agency’s responsiveness in processing unemployment claims and “controls over the accessibility, availability and reliability of the UI systems.”
OIG said preliminary audit fieldwork will begin on or about May 12, 2021. Audits by the agency can take months, and may or may not result in legislation or administrative changes to fix any issues that are found. A spokesperson for DOES did not immediately return DCist/WAMU’s request for comment.
Members of the D.C. Council took testimony Wednesday from unemployed workers who have struggled to collect benefits from the agency, which was overwhelmed by new claims at the onset of the pandemic, and continues to experience delays with no clear resolution in sight.
“I was always on hold for at least an hour, and they would hang up on me,” testified Brittany Goddard, a recent graduate of Howard University who lost her catering job during the health crisis, and has never received benefits despite months of phone calls and emails to the agency. “It’s been over a year at this point, and I haven’t gotten a single dime yet.”
Michael Haresign, chairperson of the D.C. Bar and Restaurant Workers Alliance, said an audit “is necessary to understand why DOES has been unable to fulfill its mandate.” He added that problems with benefits have eroded the public’s trust in the city’s safety net, and “an independent audit… is the first step to restoring that trust.”
According to DOES, more than 143,000 new claims for unemployment benefits were filed in D.C. between mid-March and mid-September. That’s more than five times the number filed in all of 2019, according to federal data.
DC preliminary, new Unemployment Insurance claim filings since March 13, 2020. pic.twitter.com/MW8zoENxru
— DC DOES (@DOES_DC) September 11, 2020
In February, the city announced it was investing an additional $11 million into DOES after the coronavirus exposed major shortcomings in the system. But workers testified that they’re still experiencing delayed payments and confusing or nonexistent communication from agency staff about their claims.
“‘There’s a glitch in the system’ can’t continue to be their excuse,” testified Jesus Campos.
Another oversight hearing is scheduled for May 12. Morris-Hughes is expected to testify, along with the contractor that operates the agency’s unemployment benefits website.