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Vets programs plagued by problems

Audit says efforts to assist with employment fall short

By Michael Gardner12:14 p.m.Oct. 31, 2013Updated5:55 p.m.
SACRAMENTO — State programs to help unemployed veterans are not doing the job, a new investigation has found.

Moreover, the California State Auditor reported Thursday that as part of its review it has unearthed threats of identity theft, yet the Employment Development Department failed to issue any notifications or file reports with law enforcement.

“This report confirms that California’s veterans employment services are broken. The Employment Development Department’s inability to meet federal expectations and flagrant use of inaccurate and flawed data to monitor program outcomes, as well as safeguard veterans from identity theft, is appalling,” said Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana, who requested the audit,

The audit results has triggered demands for new legislation to address some of the more troubling findings.

Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, and others immediately announced that they will reintroduce a stalled measure that would move all veterans-related jobs initiatives out of general EDD operations. Instead, those would be consolidated with a newly created Veterans Workforce Development and Employment Office.

The audit “confirms that California’s existing programs designed to help veterans find employment are consistently failing to meet performance goals and rank as some of the lowest performing veterans’ employment programs in the nation,” Perez said.

San Diego Assemblywoman Toni Atkins, a Democrat, said she will support such a move. “I am profoundly disappointed that EDD is not providing the level of service to veterans that we have a right to expect and that those who served our nation in uniform deserve,” she said. “We need a state effort that is focused, coordinated and that makes California’s employment services for veterans one of the best in the nation.”

Assemblyman Rocky Chávez, R-Oceanside, said he would prefer to see all of the veterans employment programs transferred to the Department of Veterans Affairs.

“They need to take ownership,” said Chávez, a retired Marine colonel. “They need to be the advocates and watchdogs.”

Separately, Correa said he plans to introduce legislation next year that would clarify the department’s responsibility to report Social Security Number breaches to law enforcement and also issue warnings to those affected.

“With veteran unemployment at crisis levels, we cannot allow these shameful and unacceptable practices to continue. I intend to introduce legislation that will bring accuracy, accountability and oversight to EDD’s veterans’ employment programs,” Correa added.

Correa was responding to problems discovered by the auditor with the broader EDD computer system that tracks all wages, including one instance where a single Social Security number was linked to 162 different names and $600,000 in pay for one quarter.

In its written response, the department told auditor Elaine Howle that federal law imposes strict limits on reporting the Social Security discrepancies to law enforcement and it cannot use federal funds to monitor for potential breaches. The EDD found that of the 99 cases of checks being issued to multiple people associated with the same Social Security number, every recipient was legally entitled to the benefit.

More broadly, the department said in its defense that many of the problems with te veterans programs can be traced to the economic downturn, that it must comply with strict federal requirements on spending and that there is no recommendation urging lawmakers to allocate more funding to make improvements.

Later, department spokeswoman Patti Roberts emailed: “It is important to recognize that EDD has a full plate and that, unless more federal money is made available, EDD must choose between continuing to offer its current broad array of federally required services or cut-back on some direct services in order to do more analysis. The EDD does not have the money to just add-on more analysis.”

Roberts continued: “The EDD agreed with the auditors’ recommendations that conducting expanded analysis of data and information could benefit decisions about veterans’ programs administration and the department will take steps in that direction to the extent it has money to do so. ”

Sen. Ben Hueso, a San Diego Democrat, said he will work with the state to ensure improvements are put in place.

“We need to take care of our veterans and ensure that the state does everything it can to help them get quality jobs. I am concerned that the EDD has plans in place but has failed to take effective action,” said Hueso, who chairs the Veterans Affairs Committee.

The audit reported that of 2.1 million Californians receiving EDD services in the fourth quarter of last year, 138,000 were veterans. But the audit does not spell out specifically how many job opportunities were lost due to the failings.

The EDD in May 2013 had 238 full-time positions dedicated to serving veterans, but that number is expected to fall to 214 as federal budget cuts begin, the audit said.

A large share of the audit concentrates on problems with how the state complied with federal Department of Labor conditions attached to more than $500 million in grants to provide job assistance to veterans.

Some of EDD’s data are “overstated” and include “inaccurate performance measures” in reports to the federal labor department, the auditor said.

In doing so, the department appeared to be more interested in complying with federal requirements instead of using the accumulated data to improve services to veterans, the audit said.

Also, the state “has consistently failed to achieve certain employment rate goals” negotiated with the labor department since fiscal year 2009-2010, the audit found.

“California is among the lowest performing states when measuring the rate at which veterans assisted by the programs enter employment,” the auditor said.

The audit also noted that the state has not aggressively moved to place more veterans in jobs with federal contractors. On May 2013, there were 17,000 open positions but only 28 veterans reported they had secured a job with a contracting company. When asked why, a manager “stated that the department had no opinion because it has not researched this issue.” That, the auditor said, is “missing an opportunity… to improve employment outcomes.”

The audit also reported that EDD failed to use its vast data troves to develop policies to better serve veterans and make sure assistance programs were well-publicized. For example, the department should do a better job matching veterans with certain skills to civilian jobs, the report said.

California is home to about 2 million veterans. The overall unemployment rate for those who served was actually lower, 11.3 percent, compared to the 11.9 percent jobless rate among the general population, according to 2011 statistics cited by the auditor. But the veterans jobless rate was 17.1 percent among the prime ages of 25-34, compared to 11.7 percent of the general population in the same age bracket.

In her email, Roberts of EDD added: “The EDD is fully committed to helping veterans find employment and the department continuously evaluates its services and acts on opportunities to do better. As noted in the audit, EDD has veterans’ employment representatives on the job throughout California conducting outreach to employers and providing a wide variety of job search services to all veterans, including intensive services to disabled veterans. The EDD presents Honor a Hero, Hire a Vet job and resource fairs throughout California each year that are attended by thousands of veterans and hundreds of employers. And, EDD works with other organizations to improve veterans’ ability to find work through the Governor’s Interagency Council on Veterans.”

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