Labor IG says $46 BILLION stolen in ‘historic levels’ of pandemic unemployment benefit fraud

Ronald Reagan articulated better than most the ineptitude of the federal government, as he often talked about the nine most terrifying words in the English Language being, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help.”

A report issued by the Labor Department’s inspector general concluded that $45.6 billion in pandemic unemployment benefits was likely stolen by fraudsters who used Social Security numbers of dead people and prisoners to claim the aid, CBS News reported.

The figure was revised upward from a June 2021 assessment that about $16 billion had been stolen by fraudulent claims, and as stunning as the loss total is, it may actually be higher.

Labor Dept. Inspector General Larry Turner announced Thursday that investigations have resulted in more than 1,000 individuals being charged with crimes involving Unemployment Insurance fraud since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

“This milestone of 1,000 individuals being charged with crimes involving UI fraud and the identification of $45.6 billion in potentially fraudulent UI payments highlights the magnitude of this problem,” Turner said. “Hundreds of billions in pandemic funds attracted fraudsters seeking to exploit the UI program — resulting in historic levels of fraud and other improper payments.”

“I am extremely proud of how our team has responded to this unprecedented crisis, despite significant resource constraints and data access issues,” he added. “We will continue to work closely with DOL, the State Workforce Agencies, the U.S. Department of Justice, the Pandemic Response Accountability Committee, and our other law enforcement partners to hold accountable those who targeted this important program.”

One such person arrested was Audri Ford-Victory, according to the Daily Mail. The 61-year-old Massachusetts woman filed 25 unemployment claims for people who were not even living in the state, swindling $215,246 from the system.

Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, praised the “strong effort to identify criminals,” according to The Washington Post, but he stressed the need for a legislative overhaul of the jobless benefits system.

“I’ve long said we need a national set of technology and security standards for state systems to better prevent this kind of fraud, and we’re going to keep working to get our reforms passed,” Wyden said.

CBS News took care to note that the pandemic program “first rolled out under President Donald Trump,” reporting that the emergency jobless aid was intended to help the millions of Americans who lost their jobs when government officials shut down vast portions of society in the early days of the pandemic by providing an extra $600 a week in added benefits.

“The biggest losses are due to workers who fraudulently claimed jobless aid in more than one state, the report found. Workers who worked in multiple states and lost their jobs due to COVID-19 were only allowed to claim pandemic aid in one of those states,” the network reported. “But the probe also found that more than 990,000 Social Security numbers were used to claim jobless benefits in two or more states, amounting to fraudulent payments of $28.9 billion. Another $16.3 billion was tied to people who filed with what the report calls “suspicious email accounts.”

The Paycheck Protection Program was another program ripe for fraud, as was a federal program to provide food to needy children. Federal authorities this week charged 47 people in Minneapolis with stealing $250 million in food aid that had been earmarked for low-income kids, according to CBS Minnesota.

U.S. Attorney Andrew Luger called it “the largest pandemic fraud in the United States,” the affiliate reported, with the money being laundered through shell companies and spent on property, luxury cars and travel.

“Their goal was to make as much money for themselves as they could while falsely claiming to feed children during the pandemic,” Luger said. “As alleged in these indictments, over a short period of time, these 47 defendants engaged in a brazen scheme of staggering proportions.”

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