ALBANY — Farmers, dairy businesses and others involved in the agriculture sector say state government has a responsibility to provide relief from soaring unemployment insurance costs stemming from 'mismanagement' by the state Department of Labor.The agency, which is controlled by Gov. Kathy Hochul, was the subject of a scathing audit released following last month's statewide elections by Comptroller Tom DiNapoli. His team of auditors determined a projected $11 billion in public funds could not be accounted for due to fraud and lax oversight of unemployment benefits managed by the Labor Department.‘STATE'S NEGLIGENCE' Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon, first installed in the post by former Gov.
Andrew Cuomo, remains in command at the agency.'Farmers and agricultural businesses cannot and should not bear the weight of replenishing the Unemployment Insurance trust fund and repaying the federal government alone, and NYSDOL (Department of Labor) should be held accountable for the negligence in overseeing the state's UI system that resulted in $11 billion of fraudulent payments,' a coalition of organizations that included the New York State Farm Bureau and the Northeast Dairy Producers Association said in a statement.The coalition is urging Hochul to provide up to $3 billion to the fund, maintaining the cost of unemployment insurance for many businesses has become 'unaffordable.'A Hochul spokesman, Justin Henry, said in reply to a CNHI inquiry: 'The New York State Department of Labor takes issues of unemployment insurance fraud seriously, which is why the Department announced a crackdown on UI fraud earlier this year. DOL has taken a multifaceted and aggressive approach to combatting fraud by stepping up its fraud investigations, implementing new technologies to detect and stop fraud, and pursuing every avenue to recover stolen funds, including a half-billion dollars in fraudulent payments in the past two years.'In a separate letter to Hochul, the New York branch of the National Federation of Independent Business, the Business Council of the State of New York, the North Country Chamber of Commerce and more than a dozen other representatives of employers urged that state resources be provided in the next state budget to address the unemployment funding crisis that has left businesses saddled with the 'highest possible unemployment insurance taxes.'MINIMUM WAGE HIKEIn a tweet Wednesday afternoon, the state labor commissioner called attention to the fact the statewide minimum wage will increase Dec. 31.
In the upstate region, it will go to $14.20 an hour, one dollar more than the current minimum.In response, the pro-business advocacy group Upstate United tweeted: 'Commissioner Reardon — If you really want to help businesses, you should fix your Department's broken UI system and recoup and repay the $11 billion that was lost due to fraud. #NYMustFixUI.'The Hochul administration maintains employers have not been hit with a surcharge due to the fraudulent activity. REPORT RELEASESeveral GOP lawmakers have been critical of the fact the blockbuster DiNapoli audit of the unemployment benefits program was not released until after the election.
Hochul was the victor over GOP challenger Lee Zeldin, a Long Island congressman, by a margin of 5.6 percentage points, one of the slimmest margins by a winning New York Democrat in years.DiNapoli has blamed the delay in releasing the report on foot-dragging Department of Labor bureaucrats who ducked his auditors' requests for information.The Business Council and the National Federation of Independent Business are also urging Hochul to veto measures they contend will result in unaffordable increases in workers compensation costs.Leaders of the business groups said the bills heading to Hochul would expand qualifications for workers compensation benefits, resulting in increased claims and ultimately raising costs.The business groups argue employers need relief measures from the state government, not additional costs at a time when businesses are grappling with a labor shortage and inflationary pressures.Frank Kerbein, director of the Center for Human Resources at the Business Council, called the workers' compensation bills 'particularly troublesome' for employers, noting they are among several measures that 'contribute to the perception that New York is not business friendly.'WAREHOUSE WORKER BILLThe business lobby lost one battle this week when Hochul approved a measure billed as the Warehouse Worker Protection Act.It seeks to shield workers from speed quotas, with protections for employees who face discipline for failing to achieve the quotas at distribution centers.Sen. Jessica Ramos, D-Queens, the bill's sponsor, said: 'We have made sure that corporations like Amazon and UPS can't wring all the profits they can out of their employees, leaving the workers to deal with their injuries.'