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Illinois state lawmakers call for public hearings on unemployment fraud

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Friday, July 24, 2020  |  Article  |  By Greg Bishop | The Center Square

Governor (44) , Unemployment (93) Butler, Tim--State House, 87

(The Center Square) – There could be millions and millions of dollars of fraud going on with unemployment benefits being sent to people who didn’t apply for them, according to an Illinois state legislator who is calling for public hearings on the issue.

Unemployment security is covered by employer taxes. Since the beginning of March, more than 1.4 million Illinoisans have filed for initial claims amid continued economic restrictions the government imposed to slow the spread of COVID-19.

Thursday, the U.S. The Department of Labor reported nearly 39,000 more Illinoisans filed for unemployment benefits last week, around 2,300 fewer than filed the week before.

Wednesday, the Illinois Department of Employment Security announced they are investigating a fraud following an increasing number of reports of people getting unemployment benefits when they didn't apply for them.

“The increase in the fraudulent unemployment claims is believed to be coming primarily out of the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program,” a statement from IDES said. “Under the ambiguous federal guidelines, which were developed in haste because of the urgency of the pandemic and issued to every state without a uniform method of implementation, the potential for fraud within this system is abundant. ”

“One of the largest vulnerabilities within PUA is the absence of an employer on the other side of the claim to contest the claim in the event it is fraudulent or should be protested,” the department said.

Gov. J.B. Pritzker said it’s a fraud, but couldn't say how expansive it is.

“We don’t know yet, but we know that it’s wide enough spread that we’ve gotten a lot of reports of it,” Pritzker said.

State Rep. Tim Butler, R-Springfield, told WMAY radio he’s aware of one instance where someone who didn’t apply got a card with $11,000. He said public hearings are needed.

“We can do it today. We can have a hearing tomorrow,” Butler said. “We can have a hearing at the capitol building tomorrow and march these people in front of us and get these questions answered or at least get the ball rolling telling them they need to investigate. We need to hold these people responsible.”

A statement from IDES said the department is cracking down and investigating.

Despite there being a data breach back in May of the IDES website the state said seemed to expose names and social security numbers independent contractors filing for recently created benefits, Pritzker said the program the federal government set up “seemed to be attractive to hackers.”

“The fraud that’s being engaged in by them with information that they obtained in some other capacity, it’s not that they’re breaching our systems it’s that they’re applying in the normal way that people apply to get these programs and payments to them using the names that they’ve gotten,” Pritzker said. “Now how they would obtain them from somebody’s mailbox if it were sent to somebody, I’m not sure. There’a lot of federal investigation going on. ”

Butler said the feds aren’t the only ones who need to investigate. He demanded there be hearings at the statehouse to question state officials. .

“I think millions upon millions of dollars are subject to fraud on this and I don’t see anything that the governor is doing to try and correct this situation,” Butler said.

Unemployment insurance is covered by taxes employers pay. The state is already borrowing billions to cover the cost of the historic levels of unemployment driven by government shutdowns of sectors of the economy.