(Michael Finney) The amount of unemployment funds stolen from California taxpayers in 2020 may total more than $8 billion — four times higher than estimated just one month ago. The numbers are staggering; the solutions elusive. As our sister station KGO-TV found out, even states credited with cracking down on fraud have had issues. Since the start of the pandemic, we’ve shared countless stories of struggling Californians desperate to get their unemployment benefits.
Legitimate claimants are being mistaken for scammers.
“They’re trained to tell me absolutely zero information because I could be potentially a scammer,” said Ben Chrimes of San Jose. “They cut the card off. They didn’t even allow me to get my money that they had already given to me on the card,” Roxzan Macon of Hesperia told KGO-TV.
Yet people who don’t deserve the money are getting it.
Bank of America said last month $2 billion had been paid out in fraudulent unemployment claims. But Robert Lapsley of the California Business Roundtable says the number is higher — way higher. The state revealed before the pandemic more than 8% of all jobless claims paid between 2016 to 2019 went to scammers.
Last year California paid out $106 billion in EDD benefits.
“If you take that same number, that puts you know, the total fraud, you know, at least eight-and-a-half billion dollars,” said Lapsley. Lapsley blasts the way the state handled the pandemic, saying it didn’t do enough to prevent fraud early on. He credits Pennsylvania for cracking down on fraud early. That state said it kept in close contact with other states about new fraud methods to prevent them from entering their state.
Pennsylvania also implemented the ID verification system, ID.Me, the same month California did, in October. Beyond that, it declined to disclose its anti-fraud methods for security reasons. However, state officials acknowledge Pennsylvania’s problems mirror California’s.
“Just when we were feeling like we had a handle on it, the fraud epidemic started,” said Jerry Oleksiak, the Pennsylvania Secretary of Labor and Industry.
Our sister station in Philadelphia tells us its unemployment department, like ours, has also been accused to denying benefits to the truly unemployed. Meanwhile California says it has cut the number of fraudulent claims by 30 percent.