AUGUSTA – Governor Paul R. LePage is pleased with the final report of The Unemployment Reform Blue Ribbon Commission, which was delivered this week. An Executive Order signed by the Governor in May established the Commission and tasked it with reviewing various complaints and concerns raised by Maine citizens about the consistency and objectivity of the unemployment insurance system.
On Monday, Dec. 9, the commission’s co-chairs, former Chief Justice of the Maine Supreme Court Daniel Wathen and Hon. George M. Jabar, II, Commissioner for Kennebec County and practicing attorney in Waterville, met with the Governor and Commissioner of Labor Jeanne Paquette to review their findings and recommendations.
“I am pleased with the thoroughness and seriousness with which the Blue Ribbon Commission undertook their review of Maine’s Unemployment System,” said Governor LePage. “It confirmed several of my concerns surrounding payments to people who are later found ineligible to receive benefits, problems associated with delayed receipt of benefits, lack of effective communication necessary to standardize decision-making, and inconsistent application of evidence standards relating to business records. These are serious flaws in the system.”
Commission chairs Hon. George M. Jabar, II and Justice Daniel Wathen provided unanimous recommendations identifying ways in which the unemployment system may be fixed. Both reflected on the bipartisan Commission’s review of the system, which proved to be complex and in need of improvements.
“Investigating the unemployment system was a huge undertaking and the Commission worked collaboratively and diligently to provide an accurate analysis in a timely manner. Additionally, the Department of Labor was cooperative and helpful throughout the process,” said Jabar. “We examined the entire system from top to bottom, from initial claims to final appeals, and what we found was eye-opening.”
“All commission members agreed with the findings of this report. We found inconsistencies that hurt both employees and employers,” Wathen said. “However, there is an opportunity to address these issues in a meaningful way that will improve the system to make it more equitable for everyone.”
Commissioner Paquette also welcomed the Commission’s findings. “This report echoes many of my concerns. The Department of Labor has already begun work on several initiatives recommended in the report,” she noted. “We are currently identifying the best means of implementing several recommendations, including staffing needs, improved communication and consistency issues. In addition, we are exploring possible legislation to clarify misconduct, as several other states have done recently.”
“Employers and employees need to have confidence in the unemployment system,” emphasized Governor LePage. “Delay, inconsistent and reversed decisions, and inefficient systems hurt everyone and hurt our business climate. By improving this system we are making changes that will benefit all Mainers and save money for both taxpayers and employers.”
In addition to the co-chairs, the Commission members included David Walck, franchise owner of several Dunkin’ Donuts restaurants; Shawn Anderson, chief operating officer of Cary Medical Center in Caribou; Christine Hastedt, public policy director for Maine Equal Justice Partners; and Kristin Aiello, managing attorney for the Disability Rights Center of Maine. The Commission’s membership was deliberately balanced to include equal representation of both employer and employee interests.
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