A business-allied organization is calling for a legislative hearing to further assess the $11 billion in estimated fraud found in New York's unemployment system during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, meanwhile, in her first public comments Tuesday about the audit from Comptroller Tom DiNapoli's office, pledged to address the issue and indicated it would rolled into a broader effort to assess the decisions made during the early weeks and months of the pandemic.

The audit released last week by DiNapoli's office concluded state Department of Labor officials were told in 2015 its safeguards against fraud and improper payments had not been sufficiently updated. When an avalanche of unemployment claims hit the system in March and April 2020 at the start of the pandemic, the system became quickly overwhelmed as a result.

As labor officials sought to move money out the door as quickly as possible, billions of dollars in fraudulent or improper payments were made.

"It was a circumstance where money had to get out, people were in dire straits, but also a lot of people took advantage of it," Hochul told reporters Tuesday when asked if she continued to have confidence in Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. "That's what we're trying to get our arms around."

Hochul pointed to her office's hiring of an outside consultant firm to assess the state's handling of the pandemic, a review that is expected to be broad based in its purview of nursing homes, schools and businesses, which will also include the unemployment benefit problems.

"I'm working closely to try and fix the wrongs of the past that we inherited," she said. "But we have to straighten it out, no doubt about it."

Hochul's administration this summer announced it was undertaking a four-year plan to upgrade the unemployment benefit system and bolster its efforts to prevent fraud and thwart scammers. The Department of Labor has also touted the $175 million or so in fraud idetified so far this year.

But business organizations are pressing for the state to do more. The group Upstate United on Wednesday will release a letter sent to lawmakers urging them to hold a hearing on the issue.

"Ultimately, the Department of Labor must be held accountable for its mismanagement of the state’s UI system and the massive fraud that followed," Executive Director Justin Wilcox wrote in the letter. "It is also important to ensure that systemic improvements are fully implemented and monitored so a crisis of this magnitude does not happen again."

Businesses this year were hit with a surcharge to their unemployment insurance payments in order to help New York pay down billions of dollars in unemployment debt owed by New York state to the federal government. About $7.8 billion is currently owed by New York to the federal government.

Businesses have urged the state to assume the cost of the debt; New York officials have said the federal government should waive it. Meanwhile, employers were shouldering the debt and the cost of the fraud that came along with it.

"Employers who pay into the state’s UI system and are currently bearing the burden of the state’s $7.8 billion debt deserve answers," Wilcox wrote. "We believe legislative hearings will provide those answers and more."