In response to a new audit that shows nearly $2 billion in federal funds went to fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims paid out by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), State Representative Tom Weber (R-Lake Villa) is calling for hearings into the fraud and the unemployment benefit system at the agency.
“This is fraud on an unbelievable scale. It wasn’t just minor errors that slipped through the cracks in the system, it was a total failure of IDES’ ability to manage unemployment,” Rep. Weber said. “The Governor and director of IDES have never been upfront about how much fraud occurred in 2020 and 2021. My own offices reported countless cases of fraud to IDES. Reading the audit, I have to question, were these warnings acted upon or met with silence?”
According to a Chicago Tribune investigation in 2021, IDES failed to follow federal recommendations to adopt free fraud-fighting tools made available before the pandemic and was slow in developing other processes to unearth fraud.
The federal government created the Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program to help people impacted by the Governor’s lockdown who are not usually covered by unemployment insurance, such as gig workers or the self-employed. The audit released Thursday by the Illinois Auditor General’s Office found that $1.9 billion of the $3.6 billion in PUA paid out from July 2020 to June 2021 was tied to fraud, largely in the form of identity theft.
“We owe it to our constituents and those rightfully applying for benefits to shore up the integrity of the unemployment system. This audit is a great first step for transparency and accountability, but they need to do more. I join my colleagues in calling for hearings to determine what steps need to be taken to repair the broken system, recover those funds from those who committed that fraud, and safeguard the process so that this won’t happen again.”