Another week, another story that calls into question the LePage administration’s ability to execute the basic tasks of governance.

Just a few days after a legislative committee opened an investigation into the deaths of two girls involved with the Department of Health and Human Services, raising questions about whether the department’s seemingly overburdened caseworkers have been getting the resources they need, the Morning Sentinel reported a similar situation in the Department of Labor’s Bureau of Unemployment Compensation.

In a confidential internal memo obtained by Sentinel reporter Colin Ellis, an unnamed Department of Labor employee details how the implementation of a new unemployment claims system went awry, a development the memo says was met with indifference by senior managers. As a result, benefits for thousands of Mainers were delayed or denied altogether.

Worse, the managerial indifference may have grown out of contempt for the people receiving benefits they are entitled to.

The allegations in the memo are backed by two former temporary employees who talked to the Sentinel, as well as by the experiences of numerous Mainers who have come forward to tell how the new system failed them.

The new system, ReEmployME, was launched in December, despite continuing problems with its use in Mississippi and against the judgment of some employees. It went online just as the number of claims jumps up as seasonal employees are let go. From all evidence, the system could not handle it.

According to the memo, claimants were wrongly told to use their old usernames and passwords on the new system, which quickly locked them out. Because only select personnel were able to unlock an account and reset passwords, the calls hit a bottleneck, and the overflow calls, many from recently laid-off first-time claimants, were sent to voicemail.

Employees worked overtime, and more temporary workers were brought in, but they couldn’t keep up. Claimants were told to go to regional career centers for help, but the centers weren’t trained properly.

Eventually, according to the memo and the former employees, the voicemail was shut off, the staff was ordered not to take any more messages, and the voicemails left for the office, now written on pieces of paper collected in a basket, were removed to the director’s office and never seen again.

Meanwhile, those who could not properly complete their claims in time had their accounts shut down and their claims denied.

The bureau’s director, John Feeney, told legislators last month that the problems were the result of user error. But he also said that the phone lines were open, which has been refuted by an endless stream of claimants, many of whom sat on hold for hours before their calls were dropped without explanation.

Instead, the memo and former employees describe a department where morale has cratered, and where senior managers are uninterested in helping claimants, who were being disparaged in a way familiar to followers of the LePage administration.

“They think it’s a welfare thing,” one of the employees told the Sentinel. “They don’t realize these people are suffering. They don’t want to help at all.”

Launching a unfinished system during a busy time of the year with an ill-prepared staff points to incompetence. Using that failing system to deny benefits to people who need and deserve them is something quite different.

Once again, a breakdown in government is causing misery, and once again we are left wondering if it’s on purpose.

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