U.S. federal watchdog estimates $45.6 billion in COVID-19 pandemic unemployment benefits were likely stolen nationwide

The United States Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General (DOL-OIG) estimated that fraudsters stole $45.6 billion in COVID-19 pandemic unemployment benefits between March 2020 and April 2022.

In a memorandum on Sept. 22, the DOL-OIG identified an additional $29 billion in potentially fraudulent unemployment payments from the initial $16 billion cited in a June 2021 alert, which investigated claims from March through October 2020.

The watchdog said that its 190,000 unemployment fraud investigations since the beginning of the pandemic led to over 1,000 people being charged.

Fraudsters allegedly filed claims using suspicious email accounts of Social Security numbers of the deceased and federal prisoners ineligible for the benefits of the sweeping federal relief package signed by former President Donald Trump in March 2020, according to the memorandum.

The watchdog added that some also filed claims in multiple states.

The DOL-OIG took aim at the DOL’s Employment and Training Administration (ETA), accusing it of reporting unemployment data in an untimely manner and placing some of the blame on its implementation of relevant regulations.

“ETA’s lack of sufficient action significantly increases the risk of even more UI payments to ineligible claimants. Our identification of the additional potentially fraudulent payments emphasizes the need for increased ETA engagement and assistance to mitigate fraud and protect the UI program’s integrity,” DOL-OIG said.

In a letter contained in the memo, ETA said that it was “concerned that the OIG’s mischaracterization of the Department’s efforts to provide the OIG access to state UI data portrays ETA as opposing or obstructing the effort to provide such access.”

“This characterization is not fair and is not reflective of ETA’s actions,” ETA wrote.


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