The Oregon Employment Department fiasco: Gov. Brown needs to look in the mirror.

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In blasting the bungling at the Oregon Employment Department, Oregon Gov. Kate Brown needs to look in the mirror.

The fact is the Oregon Employment Department has been a dysfunctional mess for years under three Democratic administrations.

On May 31, 2020, Brown fired Kay Erickson, Director of the Employment Department, after an uproar over delayed payment of unemployment benefits to thousands of struggling Oregonians.

“In the middle of this pandemic, the continued delays from the Oregon Employment Department in delivering unemployment insurance benefits to thousands of out-of-work Oregonians are unacceptable,” Brown said in a statement.

Brown neglected to point out that it was she who named Erikson Director in Aug. 2016, effusively praising her at the time as “an innovative and collaborative leader.”

She also failed to point out that in January 2016 she had also fired the previous director, Lisa Nisenfeld, who had been appointed in September 2013 by another Democratic governor, John Kitzhaber.

Nisenfeld had also taken over a dysfunctional agency that had lost the trust of the Legislature and wasted money on problematic software projects.

In November 2013, The Oregonian reported the Employment Department poured nearly $7 million into development of a failed software project before scrapping the project altogether.

A July 2013 state assessment of the Employment Department had uncovered distrust, dysfunction and “warring factions” led by the agency’s top deputies, as well as multiple failures in the department’s IT department.

“The Information Technology department of the Oregon Employment Department (OED) is in need of leadership, governance, priority setting, methodology, contract administration, and appropriate HR practices,” the assessment said.

The 2013 assessment also lambasted IT governance. “When the (2008-2009) recession hit, multiple projects were added to the IT workload, senior managers left with poor hand off and no continuity with regard to IT sponsorship work,” it said. “These projects were not prioritized and IT was left relatively unsupported.”

Then there’s the fact Oregon received $85.6 million in one-time modernization funds from the U.S. Department of Labor way back in 2009, when Democrat Ted Kulongoski was governor.

The upgrade was supposed to solve problems associated with the use of computers that were running systems dating back to the Reagan administration and earlier. Although subsequent audits have warned that the Employment Department remained woefully unprepared for a spike in jobless claims, most of that federal money remains unspent.

Brown has been governor since February 2015. It’s time to stop blaming everybody but herself and fellow Democratic governors for the fiasco at the Employment Department.

Addendum:

Oregon leaders squandered years on jobless benefits computer upgrade. Now the project’s future is again in doubt, by Mike Rogoway, The Oregonian/OregonLive, May 19, 2021.

With Oregon school finances tight, Democrats and unions push to raise costs

Oregon Democrats talk out of both sides of their mouth when addressing school finances.

While arguing that our schools desperately need more money and advocating for Measure 97, which would impose huge business tax increases to cover the bill, they’ve been working to increase school costs.

It all has to do with unemployment insurance.

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School districts, not their employees, pay for unemployment insurance benefits. Under ordinary circumstances, school employees released for summer break, customary vacation periods or holiday recesses aren’t considered unemployed and aren’t eligible for unemployment compensation benefits.

But leave it to the Democrats, allied with their union supporters, to try to chip away at these restrictions and pass along the added costs to Oregon schools.

Democrats made a run at changing the law in 2015 when State Senator Michael Dembrow (D-District 23), who receives substantial campaign contributions from unions, introduced SB 470.

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Oregon State Senator Michael Dembrow

At the time, school employees who performed services other than instruction, research or administration did not qualify for unemployment insurance benefits during school breaks. A committee amendment which replaced the original language of SB 470 would have changed that, permitting school employees who left their jobs for good cause to receive unemployment insurance benefits.

The bill was still in committee upon adjournment, so it died.

But the Democrats persisted.

Earlier this year, Senator Dembrow introduced SB 1534, which again proposed permitting school employees who leave their jobs for good cause to receive unemployment insurance benefits during summer and school breaks.

Tricia Smith of the Oregon School Employees Association testified before the Senate Committee on Workforce and General Government that school employees who could be eligible for benefits under the bill are in non-instructional positions such as secretaries, food service workers, custodians, school bus drivers and others.

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Like the proverbial camel’s nose under the tent, the law was likely the first salvo in a long-range union attempt to make teachers eligible for unemployment compensation during summer and school breaks, too.

I was curious how much this expanded unemployment compensation allowance had cost school districts so far. So I asked the Oregon Employment Department to tell me how many people had collected unemployment insurance benefits under the new standards, their job categories and the amount of unemployment insurance benefits paid out to them.

Fortunately, I learned that the Democrat’s misguided attempt to burden Oregon schools with higher unemployment compensation costs has been crushed.

After passage of the legislation, the Employment Department received notice from the U. S. Department of Labor that SB 1534 does not conform with federal guidelines to administer the Unemployment Insurance program.

According to Craig Spivey, a Public Information Officer with the Oregon Employment Department, “SB 1534 included a provision that if the changes to Oregon statute fail to conform to federal guidelines, they would not go into effect. Therefore SB 1534 is not in effect at this time and no unemployment claims have been filed” under the more expansive criteria in the legislation.”

Whew! Oregon school districts dodged a bullet on this one.