Mineola - In apparent contradiction of New York State Labor Law, some senior county officials from the prior administration -- including several department heads -- have been granted unemployment insurance benefits by the New York State Department of Labor.
"Under state law, employees in 'non-tenured policymaking or advisory position[s}' are ineligible for unemployment benefits," according to Nassau County Comptroller Howard S. Weitzman, whose office recently conducted a limited review of the Civil Service Commission's procedures for responding to unemployment insurance claims filed by former Nassau County employees. Weitzman said the issue has been brought to the attention of the county attorney and the county's human resources director.
The audit was triggered by concern that county claimants could potentially receive both unemployment insurance and state retirement system benefits simultaneously. In accordance with state law, an individual's employment benefits are to be reduced if s/he is collecting retirement benefits financed in whole or in part by his or her employer. Although the audit did not find any instances of double dipping, it revealed the lack of procedures in place to prevent it.
"The Civil Service Commission does not check to ensure that all pension credits due to the county are received and that claimants' benefits are reduced accordingly," said Weitzman.
The field audit also revealed other flaws in the current procedures used by the Civil Service Commission -- an overriding concern being that the administrative process is time-consuming and dependent on inefficient manual recording and data entry steps.
The Commission also does not automatically inform a county department that employed a claimant when a claim is filed. The comptroller's office maintains that automating the process can rectify this. "This would ensure that all relevant information would be obtained to aid in the decision as to whether to contest a claim," said Weitzman. He notes that automation would also include electronically filing contests to claims with the New York State Department of Labor.
The comptroller expressed concern that the Commission does not have a system in place that monitors the costs of unemployment benefits for each individual. According to the audit, the total cost to Nassau County to pay unemployment benefits during 2001 was $410,000. Costs for the first six months of 2002 increased significantly ($1,598,000) due to terminations resulting from the change in county administration and staff reductions that occurred at Nassau University Medical Center (NUMC). Of this amount, $908,000 is NUMC's responsibility.
"We expect that NUMC will soon start responding to unemployment benefits claims from its former employees," said Weitzman, noting that the medical center is now run by a public-benefit corporation and not by the county. Acknowledging that NUMC did not obtain its own registration number until recently, Weitzman said his office has apprised the Civil Service Commission to stop forwarding NUMC claims to the county for payment.