EDITORIAL: Pa. taxpayers deserve better than errors, oversights from our state government

YORK DISPATCH EDITORIAL BOARD
The Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry is admitting it overcharged Pennsylvanians millions of dollars in interest.
  • The Department of Labor and Industry overcharged unemployed Pennsylvanians millions of dollars.
  • The agency announced Friday it will issue refunds to roughly 250,000 people for at least $14 million.
  • The Pa. Department of Health reduced the number of reported COVID-19 vaccine doses administered.

We deserve better.

That’s the logical reaction of most Pennsylvania taxpayers over the last week when a pair of stories emerged about the less-than-stellar performance of our state government.

First came the report from Spotlight PA that the state is admitting that it overcharged unemployed Pennsylvanians millions of dollars.

Spotlight PA, an independent, nonpartisan newsroom that does yeoman’s work in reporting on state government, had recently contacted the Department of Labor and Industry with a list of questions about an error that overcharged unemployed Pennsylvanians millions of dollars in interest for a decade. The agency then announced Friday it will issue refunds to roughly 250,000 people.

More:Department of Labor admits it overcharged unemployed Pennsylvanians millions of dollars

More:Pennsylvania says it counted 500K duplicate COVID-19 shots

Department of Labor admits it overcharged unemployed Pennsylvanians millions of dollars

According to the report, each year, interest accrues on money people owe to the department because, for various reasons, the state overpaid their unemployment benefits. A Spotlight PA probe found the Department of Labor and Industry, from 2006 to 2016, did not use interest rates set annually by the state revenue department, which ranged between 3% and 8%.

The agency instead charged a fixed, 9% interest rate, because it failed to adjust the number annually in the computer system that processes payments. The department said this was an oversight following a 2005 legal change.

During that time, the state collected millions of dollars in inflated interest charges from hundreds of thousands of unknowing Pennsylvanians. The state made a rough estimate Friday, in response to questions from Spotlight PA, that it owes at least $14 million, saying this amounts to less than $50 for most people.

However, former employees at the Department of Labor and Industry tasked with assessing the mistake have for months told Spotlight PA that the agency owes much more money.

No matter the amount, however, such an oversight should not happen, especially at the expense of folks who are struggling financially, such as the unemployed.

The state reportedly knew about the error in 2016, but employees were instructed to keep it "hush hush."

It’s likely the oversight never would’ve been exposed if it wasn’t for the reporting done by Spotlight PA.

The Department of Labor and Industry was already under fire for its poor job in getting unemployment compensation to Pennsylvanians during the COVID-19 pandemic. This latest episode is just another black mark on the department.

Department of Health error: Then, just a few days later, the state Department of Health reduced the number of reported COVID-19 vaccine doses that had been administered by about 500,000, saying the numbers were duplicates.

The figures, released Friday evening without explanation, also showed an increase of about 60,000 in the number of people who are counted as fully vaccinated.

Pennsylvania says it counted 500K duplicate COVID-19 shots

Friday's data showed just under 11.3 million total vaccine doses, down from Thursday's figure of 11.8 million. It also showed more than 5.5 million people fully vaccinated, up 64,000 from Thursday's figure.

Such wild fluctuations in numbers certainly don’t do anything to instill confidence in our state’s Department of Health.

Such inaccuracies certainly won’t help the state in its bid to get more residents fully vaccinated. The vaccine skeptics will almost certainly point to such mistakes to cast generalized doubt on the reliability of the Department of Health and its vaccine recommendations.

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At least in this case, however, it did not take an investigative report to spur the state to admit its errors.

Still, these kinds of mistakes are extremely worrisome. Even worse, was the state’s efforts to keep the unemployment oversight “hush-hush.” The state’s taxpayers deserve more transparency.

The state’s taxpayers just deserve better.