Today, Representative John Curtis (R-UT), member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led fellow House Republican colleagues in sending a letter to Acting Inspector General Larry D. Turner, top watchdog at the United States Department of Labor, to request an immediate investigation into claims of unemployment fraud disrupting safety net programs across the United States.
“Unfortunately there are still hundreds and thousands of Americans out of work because of this horrific virus—which makes these reports of fraud especially concerning,” said Curtis. “Taken with the billions of taxpayer dollars we authorized to stand up these programs, and at the expense of our future generations, this is a serious and potentially devasting problem. We needed to get this right yesterday, and I stand ready to work with the Department of Labor in addition to our state partners to offer any needed assistance.”
The letter specifically calls into question alleged exploitation of temporary unemployment programs established by Congress at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to investigating for fraud, waste, and abuse, the letter asks the US Department of Labor Inspector General’s office to offer recommendations on how to safeguard against further attempts to undermine these state unemployment insurance systems and save taxpayer dollars.
In March 2020, Congress passed the Coronavirus, Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which established the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program. This temporary program allows individuals who normally are ineligible to receive unemployment benefits, such as gig workers, the self-employed, or part-time workers, to be paid weekly benefits as a result of business disruptions caused by the pandemic.
Initial requirements for the over $350 billion program only asked applicants to self-certify their identity. According to the US Department of Labor Inspector General’s own report, this led to over $36 billion in fraud and is estimated to account for almost 40 percent of claims filed in certain states.
The full letter can be found below. PDF available here.
Dear Acting Inspector General Turner,
We write to you today with concerns about mounting reports of unemployment insurance fraud occurring throughout the country. If true, this is inexcusable, especially at a time in which millions of Americans remain out of work because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Last year, multiple state unemployment programs reportedly froze thousands of accounts with open unemployment claims after detecting fraudulent activity. In one case, investigators discovered individuals illegally filed claims on behalf of thousands of inmates, amassing over $2 billion in fraudulent benefits. Another case found claims submitted from computers overseas and, again, used stolen identities.
It is also our understanding that these criminals primarily targeted the temporary unemployment programs established help the millions of Americans who lost their jobs as a result of pandemic. This only underscores the need to swiftly address these loopholes being exploited by criminals.
Therefore, we request your office investigate these claims of fraud, waste, and abuse. If found true, your recommendations of how to safeguard against further attempts to undermine our unemployment system could save millions, if not billions, of taxpayer dollars. We also stand ready to offer additional assistance to our state partners as they manage an above average caseload of unemployment claims.
Above all, ensuring targeted relief goes to those who are most in need and being good stewards Americans’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars is critical as we continue our pandemic response. Thank you and we look forward to your response.
Representatives John Curtis (R-UT), Ralph Norman (R-SC), Scott DesJarlais, M.D. (R-TN), Scott Perry (R-PA), Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), Michael Cloud (R-TX), John Moolenaar (R-MI), and John Baird (R-IN)