House GOP must probe fraudulent NY jobless payments: Rep. Tenney

Upstate GOP Rep. Claudia Tenney is calling on the new Republican House Majority to probe at least $11 billion in improper jobless claims paid out by New York State under then-Gov. Andrew Cuomo during the coronavirus pandemic.

“A new Republican Congress must investigate this mismanagement and hold those accountable for abusing the taxpayers’ trust,” Tenney, who represents the Utica and Binghamton regions, said Thursday.

The GOP takes over the House of Representatives in January and its members will chair the key oversight committees.

Tenney was referring to a scathing audit issued by state Comptroller Tom DiNapoli — a week after the elections — that the New York Labor Department paid at least $11 billion in taxpayer cash for jobless claims that were fraudulently or inappropriately issued during the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, when Andrew Cuomo was still governor. 

The state Department of Labor under Gov. Andrew Cuomo ignored warnings for years about a creaky unemployment system.
Matthew McDermott

The audit said the wasteful and fraud-plagued spending were aided by loosened eligibility rules and an archaic and crumbling state unemployment insurance system that could not handle the tidal wave of jobless claims in 2020.

DiNapoli warned that despite the stunning theft during the the first year of the pandemic and lockdowns, billions more in fraud is likely to be uncovered.

Tenney’s blistering statement also targeted Cuomo and Gov. Kathy Hochul and DiNapoli, accusing the comptroller of sitting on the damning report until after the election to aid fellow Democrat Hochul’s re-election.

Tom DiNapoli standing
Unemployment fraud and overpayments cost New York State at least $11 billion, according to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli.
Stephen Yang

“Ever since taking over from disgraced former governor Andrew Cuomo, Kathy Hochul has humiliated New York State with scams, lies, and corruption that rival even her corrupt predecessor,” the congresswoman said.

“The fact that this damning audit was released just after New York’s gubernatorial election raises serious ethical questions about just how independently the Comptroller’s office takes its important oversight duties. I find it ironic that this audit was released a week after New Yorkers headed to the polls in an election that was among the closest in New York’s recent history.”

Tenney said taxpayers “should have known about the Cuomo-Hochul Administration’s gross mismanagement of taxpayer funds before polls closed, not just after. New Yorkers deserve full transparency from their government, which is why I am calling on the Comptroller’s office to clarify to the people of New York why this report was released only after the election.”

Claudia Tenney speaking
Upstate Rep. Claudia Tenney is calling for scrutiny of New York’s unemployment system.
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/Shutterstock

The state Assembly Republican Minority leader, Will Barclay, also demanded answers.

“The Comptroller’s audit outlines a level of incompetence and mismanagement that ranks among the worst we’ve seen in New York….. Now, it’s taxpayers and businesses who are the only ones paying the price. It’s disgraceful, unacceptable and state officials need to answer for it. The question now becomes, who is going to be held accountable?,” Barclay said.

DiNapoli’s office defended the timing of the release of the blockbuster audit of un-insurance claims — claiming it had nothing to do with the election.

“Our office has dozens of audits underway at any given time and only releases them when they are ready. This audit was no different,” said DiNapoli spokesman Mark Johnson.

Kathy Hochul pointing a finger
Hochul has not spoken publicly in recent days about the wasted $11 billion.
Matthew McDermott

“As we noted numerous times in the report, DOL was not cooperative with our staff and caused multiple delays in our efforts to complete this audit. Those trying to politicize the audit should spend their energies on fixing the problems we found and recovering improper payments.”

Hochul’s office had no immediate comment.

The Department of Labor noted in a statement that it helped 5 million New Yorkers access benefits amid “unprecedented” challenges during the pandemic, with the department implementing changes in response to the audit.

Long lines of unemployed people wait to enter bank and cash their benefit cards in Manhattan during the Coronavirus shutdown.
The state struggled to meet demand for unemployment benefits during the pandemic.
Education Images/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

“We are halfway through a four-year modernization plan that will enhance the overall experience for UI beneficiaries and reduce fraud. We’re stepping up our fraud investigations and we’ve made data on UI benefits available on a new, public dashboard. NYSDOL remains committed to protecting our UI system while ensuring all qualified New Yorkers have access to benefits,” reads the statement.