There are times when we need to conceal things we don’t want anyone else to know about. It’s considered prudent to hide your family jewels in a safe behind the fake Van Gogh painting in your home office before taking a lengthy vacation. Or, you might put your favorite box of cookies on the top shelf of the pantry, so your kids can’t reach them. You could even stash a few hundred dollars between your mattress and your box spring for a rainy day. (You never know when it might come in handy.) However, The Dayton Daily News reports on something that should never be concealed – the amount of money earned from another job while still receiving unemployment benefits from the government.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the national unemployment rate has gone down to 7.4 percent – a big improvement over the 10 percent rate in the fall of 2009. Although the economy seems to be slowly getting back on track, the St. Louis Federal Reserve reports that the government spent $108 billion in unemployment payments in 2011. Of that amount, approximately $2.2 billion in fraudulent payments were paid to people who had a job, but were not reporting the income. (Whoa there! Now that’s a pretty big cover up accomplished a few hundred dollars at a time.)
The State of Ohio is one of several states that is fighting back against concealed earnings fraud and has joined together with Colorado, New Jersey, South Carolina and Washington to form the Unemployment Insurance Integrity Center of Excellence. Led by the New York Department of Labor, the center’s mission is to identify and prevent fraud, while reducing improper payments and improving payment accuracy. The National Association of State Workforce Agencies and the U.S. Department of Labor will also participate in the center.
The article states that in 2012, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS) paid out nearly $2.3 billion in state and federal unemployment benefits to about 435,000 Ohioans. The unemployment rate has been steadily dropping due to the improving economy and the fact that the number of weeks the unemployed are allowed to collect benefits has been reduced from 99 weeks to 63 weeks. Even though the number of claims has fallen, the state has increased the number of federally funded fraud investigators from 54 to 67. The state also employs data mining techniques to detect fraud, including a national database where employers report new hires. These names are continuously cross-matched with other claimants in the database. (What a fabulous idea!)
Ohio is serious about fraud and has set up a website and a toll-free tip line for anonymous reports of unemployment benefits fraud. So far, the effort is a huge success, with an average of 90 fraud tips per week from the toll-free line and 20 tips per week over the website. This is a great step toward taking on the fight to preserve the benefits for those who truly need them.