PHOENIX — Legislators declined to commission a performance audit of the overwhelmed unemployment division of the Arizona Department of Economic Security (DES), on Thursday.
State Representative Mitzi Epstein (D-Ahwatukee) requested that the item be added to the agenda of the Joint Legislative Audit Committee (JLAC) which approves scheduling of audits for state agencies, in response to complaints about the months-long wait times for processing unemployment claims through DES.
"I asked, 'please, let's start right now to fix the processing in the unemployment insurance department.' And the answer was no. And I was disappointed to say the least," Epstein said.
Epstein's plan would have directed the Arizona Auditor General to immediately begin a study of DES unemployment computer systems and find performance improvements. October 31, 2021, would have been the deadline for completion. There was a second option to put the audit on calendar six months later for an April 2022 completion date.
"We have to do something," Epstein told ABC15. "We have to fix this unemployment insurance processing."
The measure failed to pass 5-4 along party lines with Republicans voting against and Democrats voting in favor.
Republican members of the committee did not agree on the audit's urgency and questioned the $185,000 price tag.
"We shouldn't spend that kind of money without getting approval from the body politic and not just this committee," Representative John Allen (R-Scottsdale) said during the Thursday meeting.
Senator David Livingston (R-Peoria) suggested that changes could be made during the regular legislative session which begins January 11.
There were also concerns that allowing a DES audit would stop audits that the Auditor General are already conducting.
Livingston sent a statement to ABC15 saying in part, "The Auditor General has already initiated important reviews of audits to be reported in 2021, including the School Facilities Board and several occupational licensing boards, that would cease to accommodate a rushed new audit."
But Epstein told ABC15 the Schools Facilities Board has its most recent performance audit in 2019.
For DES she said, "The last time a performance audit was done on this area was 2005."
"I could tell in the meeting yesterday, that not enough legislators recognize how very painful this situation is for folks," Epstein said.
For Arizonans still experiencing unemployment delays, she recommends, "call your legislator."
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