New Mexico seeks harsher enforcement against unemployment benefit fraud
The New Mexico Department of Workforce Solutions says they are increasing their efforts to crack down on fraudulent unemployment benefit claims. The announcement comes after the department received a $2.5 million grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to audit 50 claimants a week for potential fraud, as well as hook up to a national online system that tracks previous claimants who have returned to work. The Santa Fe New Mexican reports:
With the growth in the number of claims paid, the amount of overpayments has risen in the past five years, up from $6 million in 2006 to $27 million in 2010. That is according to federal figures that track the overpayments that states can reasonably be expected to discover and try to recover. At the same time, overall claims paid have risen from about $99 million in 2006 to $310 million in 2010.
The department uses figures that are compiled through the federal Department of Labor’s Benefit Accuracy Measurement Program, which audits 480 random cases in New Mexico a year to check the accuracy of benefit decisions.
The percent of the overpayments that are fraudulent has remained about the same, [Workforce Solutions Department Secretary] Bussey said, but the department wants to look anew at what it could do to reduce that number.
It also wants to work more at reaching out to other state and federal agencies on cases in which prosecution might be needed.
Intentional fraud is less common than simple misunderstandings or mistakes on the part of either the claimant or the government. Bussey told the New Mexican that the average formerly unemployed person will continue to withdraw unemployment benefits four to five weeks after they have obtained a new job.
The department hasn’t prosecuted anyone for unemployment benefit fraud in five years. Currently, the department will request that fraudulent claimants return the money and penalize them by denying them benefits for a certain amount of time. It will also use measures such as intercepting tax returns and garnishing wages to recoup the money.
The nationwide database, called the National Directory of New Hires, was established by the federal welfare reform law in 1996 as a way to improve child support payment enforcement, but can also be used by states to verify that they are making accurate unemployment payments.