Some legislators have blamed Michael Harrington for not notifying them sooner that federal officials were likely to find a $25-a-week extra unemployment benefit illegal. In a hearing Tuesday, Harrington fought back, telling legislators they failed to make sure the benefit would withstand federal scrutiny.
The Labor Department ruled that providing an extra $25 a week was illegal because it would have used money from the Unemployment Insurance Trust Fund. The AG said the Labor Department relied on a wrong interpretation of the law provided by Vermont Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington.
Sen. Kesha Ram Hinsdale, Rep. Tiff Bluemle and Rep. Gabrielle Stebbins are calling for Michael Harrington’s resignation over his handling of a supplemental unemployment benefit the federal government will not allow.
Some Vermont state legislators had accused the Scott administration of sinking an unemployment benefit by not informing them sooner that the feds had objected.
Lawmakers say the administration failed to inform them back in June that the new benefit might not get federal approval. Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington defends his department’s actions.
Although the Legislature approved the extra money, the federal government says Vermont may not use federal funds that the state had planned to use.
About 14,000 Vermonters are collecting unemployment benefits. Most will lose supplemental federal benefits in a couple weeks.
The state advises claimants to log their search information online to receive their benefits, but some people are told their log-in information is invalid. The department isn’t sure how widespread the issue is.
The confusion over whether or not claims would be processed is the latest hurdle people seeking unemployment benefits have faced.
The legislators believed that without an increase in benefits, a controversial unemployment insurance bill would be doomed this year.
Vermont’s cost of unemployment insurance fraud during the pandemic “will be in the millions by the time this is all said and done,” Labor Commissioner Michael Harrington said.
The department said Friday that 90% of recent initial benefit claims had been fraudulent, prompting the department to shut down the online filing system earlier in the week.
An employee has brought the legal action, claiming the company failed to provide notice to employees 60 days in advance that it was ceasing operations.
Vermont’s labor commissioner said the federal directive could place Vermonters “in a significant overpayment status,” and called the request “unconscionable.”