(The Center Square) – The Louisiana Workforce Commission has stopped more than 100,000 fraudulent claims for unemployment benefits from getting paid during the COVID-19 pandemic, including claims from a “massive fraud attempt” in November, LWC Secretary Ava Dejoie said Friday.
LWC staff still are reviewing about 20,000 claims to determine whether they are valid.
In most cases involving suspicious claims, the commission received no response to requests for more information, indicating the claims were fraudulent and the system worked, Dejoie said.
Dejoie does not publicly discuss all of the LWC’s fraud-prevention tactics because she doesn’t want to tip off potential fraudsters, but she did mention working with financial institutions in those efforts and reviewing death and wage records.
“Those with nefarious intent often are very smart,” she said. “It is a constant, constant effort to make sure that we are combating fraud and serving each and every individual [with a legitimate claim] that we can.”
Dejoie acknowledged delays in getting federal pandemic unemployment relief to many Louisiana residents, but she expressed frustration that Congress and President Donald Trump didn’t agree to extend those benefits until the closing days of last year, when everyone knew the programs would expire Dec. 26.
If state officials had known sooner the programs would be extended and what the rules would be, they could have been better prepared, Dejoie said.
“We’ve been put behind the eight ball,” Dejoie said.
The U.S. Department of Labor reported Friday that 140,000 jobs were lost in December. The nation had been adding jobs every month since almost 21 million jobs were lost in April.
Louisiana has gained about 170,000 jobs since April, Dejoie said. In contrast to the nation, Louisiana added jobs last month, but the state lost jobs in months when the rest of the nation was growing thanks to a record-breaking hurricane season, Dejoie said.
The Workforce Commission has paid out almost $7 billion in benefits to almost 700,000 claimants since the pandemic began, mostly federal dollars. Since the federal benefits extension was enacted, the LWC has paid almost $41 million to 139,300 people, Dejoie said.
The state’s unemployment insurance trust fund balance is $35 million, Dejoie said, while the fund’s borrowing account balance is $133 million. The federal government is loaning states interest-free money to pay legally required benefits to meet the unprecedented demand.
David Jacobs, Staff Reporter for the Center Square, is a Baton Rouge-based award-winning journalist who has written about government, politics, business and culture in Louisiana for almost 15 years. He joined The Center Square in 2018.