Illinois loses $5.2 BILLION in fraudulent and excessive COVID payments, 481 dead people made bank: audit

The Illinois Auditor General released a shocking report Wednesday revealing that the state paid out over $5 billion in fraudulent or excessive unemployment benefits during the COVID pandemic.

“Included in that sum was $6 million paid to 481 dead people and $40.5 million in unemployment checks written to incarcerated individuals. And, the audit warned, those numbers could be a significant undercount,” according to Capital News Illinois.

The Times notes that the audit harkens back to the earliest days of COVID, “when Illinois Department of Employment Security phone lines and the agency’s website couldn’t handle the sudden spike of individuals trying to file for unemployment benefits.”

To respond adequately to this demand, the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) decided to cut corners. But in doing that, they unintentionally opened loopholes that others were able to exploit.

“Beginning in March 2020, IDES suspended some routine identity cross-matches performed on all regular UI [unemployment insurance] claims filed because the cross-matches required time to run and constricted the processing system severely,” the audit reportedly reads.

“These cross-matches were temporarily suspended and/or processed offline. This allowed IDES to better handle the increase in claims processing traffic; however, this left the unemployment programs more susceptible to fraud,” it continues.

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker, a Democrat, responded to the audit during a press conference Thursday by predictably pointing elsewhere.

“Pritzker acknowledged the findings of the audit, but pointed to other large states that saw even bigger COVID-era unemployment fraud, like $20 billion in California and $8 billion in New York,” according to the Capital News.

“I think we all would say that we would have preferred if we didn’t see that kind of fraud. But remember, the moment that this happened in, it was a global emergency,” Pritzker said.

“We were trying to get money out the door to people who had lost their jobs because, frankly, people were getting sick and dying. We wanted to make sure they could survive so we could have jobs for them at the end of the pandemic,” he added.

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State Republicans view things differently.

“This audit has made it crystal clear that the administration’s management of the unemployment system during COVID was an unmitigated disaster of historic proportions,” Illinois state Sen. Chapin Rose, a Republican, said in a statement, according to Fox News.

“It’s clear that the agency failed to follow its own safety protocols, and, according to the audit, is apparently still refusing to follow common-sense guidance from the feds. All the while, the agency completely dropped the ball on the one thing it said it was focused on, which was getting unemployment benefits in a timely matter to the people who desperately needed them,” he added.

“The people of Illinois should be disgusted at how badly their money was handled and how little was done to account for the outright theft and gross incompetence. The people who were supposed to serve as stewards of their resources completely failed them, and their ineptitude served to embolden and help criminals to abuse the system and steal benefits,” he concluded.

IDES for its part has reportedly tried to pin the blame for this fiasco on the Trump administration for piecing together a “poorly designed and brand-new unemployment insurance program” for Illinois to manage.

“Because the federal program did not require the routine and necessary crossmatching identity controls incorporated within the state’s regular unemployment insurance system, the likelihood that overpayments and fraud recovery efforts nationwide would be negatively impacted is unsurprising,” an IDES spokesperson told Fox News Digital.

“Federal testimony consistently outlines that implementing and expediting new federal programs will continue to challenge states, particularly as a result of an inability of the federal budgeting model to adapt to quickly changing economic situations,” they added.

But according to the audit, it sounds as if IDES was responsible.

“IDES chose to not utilize the Integrity Data Hub tools [recommended by the Labor Department in May 2020] because other IT-related projects were deemed to be of greater urgency during the pandemic. IDES began utilizing the Integrity Data Hub tools in September 2021,” the audit states.

Critics for their part have chosen to blame Pritzker and his entire bloated, overpaid administration:

Vivek Saxena

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