By: Erika Mendez – Student Journalist
The unemployment program in the U.S has helped millions of Americans throughout the Covid crisis. Still, the state run agencies struggle to properly distribute funds due to the overwhelming amount of claims and their flawed computer systems. This makes them an easy target for criminals looking to swindle the system.
According to an article published by Bloomberg Businessweek, The U.S Department of Labor estimates at least $63 billion in improper payments have been given out since last year. Now that Congress has extended benefits until September of this year, the agencies prepare to deal with even more fraudulent claims that will emerge.
The battle against fraud isn’t an easy victory because many struggling Americans are caught in the middle of it. Understaffed offices and outdated technology have to efficiently weave through thousands of claims daily in order for people to get their money while fighting off scammers. There have been instances where legitimate claims have been wrongly flagged thus causing long delays in receiving payments.
Gladys Villacorta, 64, a food service worker at Novartis Pharmaceuticals in East Hanover, NJ says her unemployment claim was flagged for suspicious activity and it took almost four weeks for the agency to properly review her claim and allocate her benefits. “I filed my claim on a Monday as I do every week and it was flagged and I didn’t receive any benefits until the next month, it was really a struggle.”
Some states have imposed a more robust identity verification process such as video chat with an agent to verify their status. Still, as agencies amplify their security measures, criminals are also getting more savvy. Despite the efforts to fight off fraudsters, it’s impossible to eliminate it because of the massive amount of claims. The main focus is to continue helping Americans through the pandemic to the fullest extent.