Audit of first few weeks of pandemic highlights millions in potential unemployment fraud
By GREG BISHOP
The Center Square
Illinois Senate Republicans are calling for a performance audit of the state’s unemployment agency after a scathing financial audit showed what they say is the tip of the iceberg of fraud.
The most recent Auditor General financial audit for the Illinois Department of Employment Security for fiscal year 2020 only covers the first few months of the pandemic through June 2020.
State Sen. Sue Rezin, R-Morris, said the problems from just those few weeks are staggering.
“This report talks about claims made for dead people, claimants for future birthdays and individuals under the age of 13 and over the age of 90,” Rezin said. “What’s even more shocking is the fact that this audit only shows findings through June , which only accounts for ten percent of the program’s duration.”
The state’s unemployment spiked last year to historic levels when Gov. J.B. Pritzker issued executive orders effectively shutting down many businesses to indoor service for ten weeks at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Among other findings in the Auditor General’s report are that the IDES paid nearly $97 million for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance over the minimum and did not validate wages of all claimants, paid more than $41.6 million in benefits to more than 4,500 claimants whose identities were not validated, paid more than $2.6 million to those whose birthdates were the same day or later than the date of the claims, and paid more than $343,000 to 35 claimants who were deceased
“Failure to accurately document PUA eligibility resulted in potentially ineligible claimants receiving benefits totaling $154,906,354,” the audit summary said. “Noncompliance with federal laws and regulations could lead to sanctions and/or loss of future federal funding. Due to the absence of adequate information to support the eligibility of paid claimants as described above, the amounts recorded could not be audited.”
State Sen. Win Stoller, R-Germantown Hills, said the Auditor General’s financial audit is just the tip of the iceberg. He said now 18 months in, the unemployment trust fund debt is estimated to be north of $5 billion.
“And it’s estimated that up to a billion of that is the result of this incompetence and fraud in the governor’s unemployment office,” Stoller said. “This was not the fault of our business community and they should not bear the burden of digging our way out.”
The unemployment trust fund is paid for by taxes businesses pay for each employee on their payroll. Stoller said the state can’t wait for another federal bailout and must use already released funds to cover the unemployment debt. Republicans are also calling for a performance audit of the department.
Republicans are demanding a performance audit. Republicans were also critical that IDES offices remain closed to the public, as has been the case for nearly 18 months.
Senate President Don Harmon’s spokesman John Patterson said they “continue to monitor the situation and weigh options.”
IDES didn’t respond when asked for a comment.
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