(The Center square) – More than $1 million in state and federal unemployment benefits were sent to dead people in Louisiana over the past year.
A new report by the state’s Legislative Auditor found that $1.08 million was paid out to 374 people after they died between March 2020 and April 2021. The audit said most of the payments were unavoidable, but that $337,000 of it should have been prevented under the Louisiana Workforce Commission’s current procedures.
About two-thirds of the money was paid out before the LWC received notice of the recipients’ deaths.
The LWC receives a report each month from the Louisiana Health Department of the people in the state who died in the previous 30 days. The LWC then matches the list against its database of people receiving unemployment checks. All new jobless claims are compared to what the Social Security Administration calls its “master death file.”
The audit also found that if the LWC checked its files against the health department’s death records, another $123,000 in improper payments could have been prevented.
LWC Secretary Ava Cates released a statement saying she concurred with the auditor’s recommendation to update its records weekly and that most of the payments could be attributed to identity theft, “which has and will continue to plague states administering the CARES Act.”
The audit said the $1 million is 0.013% of the $8.6 billion in state and federal unemployment the LWC has paid out during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cates said a portion of the money was paid to people who filed legitimate claims and then passed away shortly thereafter.
Cates told reporters the state did uncover some 7,000 cases of identity theft where people attempted to file jobless claims under a deceased person’s name.
Those cases are under investigation to see what addresses checks were sent to and which bank accounts received automatic deposits. That information is then given to law enforcement, since it is a federal crime.
Under the state’s Treasury Offset Program, people who are found to have committed fraud can see their income tax returns seized and are not eligible for unemployment benefits until the debt is repaid.
Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards earlier this month signed a law increasing the state’s unemployment benefits by $28 a week in exchange for ending $300 weekly federal payments early. The state will end those payments July 31, ahead of the Sept. 6 deadline set by Congress.