Our Tangled Safety Net Needs an Overhaul
The Louisiana Workforce Commission’s (LWC) mission, “put people to work”, should be made as simple as possible. Complexity in the safety net often leads to fraud and a web of requirements that ensnare people who are trying to rebuild their lives. Along with the entangled net of state programs, the LWC manages unemployment programs under the guidance of the federal government. However, the Louisiana Legislative Auditor in its June 2022 report found that the LWC fell short of this task.
The auditor found the LWC was noncompliant with the requirements of the federal Unemployment Insurance program and failed to have proper internal controls to prevent fraud. The LWC issued more than $5.6 billion in assistance during fiscal year 2021. A random sample of 138 of the 619,000 claimants revealed $257,728 in questioned costs and fourteen unemployment applications that featured inconsistent or missing information. Furthermore, the LWC failed to verify proof of wages for a third of the tested claimants who received assistance from the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program.
In response to these findings, Secretary of the LWC Ava Cates wrote that the “LWC implemented six (6) new programs within a matter of weeks in order to begin disbursing the required federal funding to previously employed individuals, including those who would not otherwise qualify for state unemployment benefits.” She went on to describe Unemployment Insurance as a “complex program administered within both state and federal laws.”
The complexity described by Secretary Cates is the fundamental problem of the safety net that should help Louisianans when they fall, but not trap them for life. For context, there are more than eighty federal safety-net programs. To increase outcomes for Louisianans while reducing waste and fraud, the overly complex network of programs must be simplified.
The current system has many conflicting rules and requirements that end up trapping people in poverty by diminishing employment options. Instead of each program acting in a silo, workforce and human services should be integrated so people can get the temporary assistance they need while also honing their skills to reenter the workforce.
The communication between departments would create a “no wrong door” for Louisianans that makes it easy to get the help they need while reducing the overhead associated with running excessive, redundant, and overlapping programs. Under this system, anyone seeking assistance can get the help they need by going to one place that will enable them to get back on track. The goal of the improved safety net is to empower the work-capable to pursue the opportunities for growth and flourishment that are available in our state.
The failures of the current system are expensive and costly to the people of the Pelican State. Louisianans deserve a better system. An efficient safety net will be easier to navigate, produce better outcomes, and empower people to return to the workforce.