In the wake of a scathing audit that revealed $73 million in unemployment benefit overpayments by the Tennessee Labor Department, there was a call Tuesday on Tennessee's Capitol Hill for Governor Bill Haslam to “put the brakes” on his plans to overhaul how injured workers (workers compensation) claims are considered.
The call came from representatives of the AFL-CIO, Tennessee Citizens Action and the chair of the Tennessee Democratic House Caucus who raised the issue that proposed changes to the Workers Compensation system would be overseen by the Tennessee Labor Department.
“The brakes need to be put on this program until the Department of Labor can demonstrate they are capable of housing such an important program for Tennessee workers,” said Will Hammon, communication director for the AFL-CIO.
The Haslam administration has maintained that moving injured workers' claims out of the court system and into a special division of the Labor Department will streamline the process and save time and money for businesses.
On Thursday, the State Division of Audit released a report that said Labor Department “management has threatened the integrity of the unemployment insurance program.”
The audit cited “$73-million in [unemployment] overpayments due to fraud during the past six years and overpayments due to error for the past three years.”
“Until the governor gets the Department of Labor in shape, there is no reason for him to create a whole new division within the Department of Labor,” added Mary Mancini, the executive director of Tennessee Citizen's Action.
Those thoughts were echoed by House Democratic Party Caucus Chair Mike Turner who said, “The Department of Labor cannot function now as its currently operating.”
For his part, Governor Haslam made his first public comments about the audit saying “there is always some of that money that gets recovered, one of the things this audit shows is that we are not doing as good as we should in recovering that, and one of the things we are trying to put in the right processes to do that.”
He dismissed a link between his Workers Comp bill and the Labor Department by adding, “Same department, I will admit, but two different issues.”