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Calls to the state’s Employment Security Department were answered just 12.5 percent of the time in December and problems left over from the pandemic continue to backlog the benefits system, delaying relief for residents.
Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office reported that the state’s antiquated unemployment system and “ad hoc workarounds” contributed to a loss of billions of dollars in improper payments.
There was concern earlier this year that the Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund would diminish, but the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations reported this week that it has grown to $232 million.
A state audit found that the Workforce Development office paid nearly $125,000 to deceased people and another nearly $114,000 to ineligible prisoners in the 2019 to 2020 fiscal year.
As of July, approximately 440,000 Louisianans have voluntarily left their jobs this year, the highest total for the first seven months of a year since 2000. But experts say mobility signals a healthy economy, albeit a challenging one for employers.
The Labor Department has increased its previous estimate of pandemic-era unemployment benefits fraud by nearly $30 billion. The agency has opened more than 190,000 investigations and charged more than 1,000 with fraud.
An audit found that the state’s unemployment agency likely paid between $441 million and $466 million in fake claims from March 2020 to March 2022. It also flagged numerous legitimate claimants as fraud.
A federal judge has approved a settlement between the state and 54 residents who had been on a work-release program but lost COVID-related unemployment benefits when the pandemic stopped their work opportunity.
The economy keeps adding them by the hundreds of thousands. But those big numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Staff shortages and a rush to distribute funds generated confusion and mistakes, resulting in unemployment benefit overpayments to thousands of Alabamians. Now, the state wants its money back.
The state’s Wage Theft Task Force has helped 265 workers to recoup pay over the last two-and-a-half years during the pandemic and has brought charges against a dozen businesses for wage fraud.
The state’s candidates for governor are addressing jobs, transportation, education and small businesses, but some voters feel they avoid talking about the most-pressing issues, like inflation or the cost of living.
While new leadership and a quick economic rebound have allowed the state’s Employment Department to better address new claims and phone calls, the agency still has outstanding issues to be resolved.
While the unemployment rates are close to pre-pandemic levels, employers are still struggling to fill positions. Statewide, businesses reported about 30,000 fewer workers than in February 2020.
The state’s Employment Development Department says that it was flooded with 47,000 suspicious claims in early May, which would have amounted to as much as $560 million. There has not yet been word who is behind the fraudulent claims.
The state saw a civilian labor force gain of 14,000 and an employment increase of 19,000 last month. April was the 12th consecutive month of job growth and 10th consecutive month of unemployment decline for the state.