Federal report: Staffing, fraud attempts hinder unemployment claims processing

Federal report: Staffing, fraud attempts hinder unemployment claims processing

ATLANTA — A newly released federal report points toward staffing resources and increased fraud attempts as challenges states have faced while trying to process pandemic unemployment funds.

The Department of Labor’s Office of the Inspector General released their audit findings Friday. It’s based on a survey of 45 states, including Georgia. The report focuses on challenges in releasing Pandemic Unemployment Assistance, or PUA. That money is doled out to states through the CARES Act.

Most of the states responded to the survey by highlighting staffing challenges, outdated application systems and a sharp increase in fraudulent claims that began over the summer. Fifty-three percent of states cited a self-verification feature as a vulnerability. That feature allows claimants to verify to the state whether they lost their job due to COVID.

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In response the federal government has created an unemployment integrity system that tailors security measures for each state. They’re also working with banks to recover an overpayment of funds.

Mark Butler, the head of Georgia’s Labor Department, told Channel 2 investigative reporter Nicole Carr that the state has processed 1.5 million of those claims, but is still dealing with an uptick in fraudulent claims that started in July. In one recent case, Butler says someone posed as a well-known Atlanta celebrity and filed a claim using that person’s real social security number.

Butler says the Georgia Department of Labor has more than doubled the number of employees handling the claims. Roughly 600 employees deal with it, but in many cases verifications still require manual work. That can amount to hours of labor per claim.

Lomar McCloud said he lost his job in July because of COVID, and headed to a Norcross unemployment office Friday because he hasn’t heard back from the state in months. He wanted to verify that they received his faxed information by this week’s deadline, because his savings run out next month.

“Just personally, trying to go day-by-day, just going off of savings, doing whatever you can do_—that’s kind of scary,” said McCloud, saying he understands the challenges in processing claims, but hopes for a quick resolution to his own case.

Butler said claimants can email the state, and should also look for new self-service features online. Claimants can also call career centers in local communities to route cases, but they should not show up in person. Most of the employees are still working remotely.

Thousands of Georgians to receive $1,800 in extra unemployment benefits next week