IDES report detailing scope of Illinois unemployment fraud remains unpublished one year later

IDES report detailing scope of Illinois unemployment fraud remains unpublished one year later

Nearly a year after Illinois lawmakers requested a comprehensive audit of state unemployment fraud during the COVID-19 pandemic, IDES, the state agency in charge of issuing assistance, remains unable to tabulate how much money was lost to scammers.

Illinois lawmakers are calling on Gov. J.B. Pritzker and the Illinois Department of Employment Security to publish a full state audit detailing how much fraudsters stole in unemployment benefits during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The demands for transparency from the state agency in charge of dispersing pandemic unemployment assistance comes on the heels of initial audit from July 2021 revealing IDES paid out $155 million to scammers in the first seven weeks of the program’s rollout.

Nearly a year later, those lawmakers are still waiting for the full fraud report to be published with no indication from IDES when it will be released, or just how much money the state lost.

U.S. Department of Labor data through the first half of 2021 estimates nearly $430 million was given out in fraudulent claims instead of to unemployed Illinoisans. But security experts caution the full figure could be more than $1 billion.

State Rep. Marty McLaughlin, R-Barrington Hills, said the agency’s continued inability to estimate 2021 state unemployment fraud is frustrating given the approval of $25 million last year to improve security against scammers.

“Let’s have a metric so we can follow whether or not those tax dollars have had an impact on stopping fraud or tracking,” McLaughlin said during a recent House appropriations committee meeting with IDES Acting Director Kristin Richards. “As of right now, we don’t have that answer a year later.”

Richards said Feb. 9 that all the department can provide is a perspective of the workload to compile such data. That same day, Kentucky’s auditor of public accounts released unemployment fraud estimates showing the state lost more than $195 million to theft through May 2021.

Lawmakers further pressed Richards about the governor’s plan to refill Illinois’ unemployment trust fund that remains $5.8 billion underwater. IDES is reportedly seeking an appropriation of $100 million to pay down interest on that loan in 2023.

State Rep. Brad Halbrook, R-Shelbyville, asked why the state isn’t using its remaining federal aid dollars to pay down the debt.

“It seems like the road that we want to go down is increased costs to employers, which ultimately increases cost to the employees and reduces their benefits package,” Halbrook said.

Richards told the committee Pritzker wants to use a “substantial” amount of the federal money to fill the unemployment trust fund deficit. But added she was prohibited from discussing the matter further.

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