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Pandemic Unemployment Insurance: How much has been paid to fraudsters?

Congress created three new programs to provide unemployment insurance (UI) benefits to individuals who lost their jobs because of the pandemic. The programs expanded eligibility, extended the length of time an individual could claim benefits, and added a weekly supplement to existing state UI benefits. Together, the three programs issued nearly $655 billion in benefits.

But federal and state oversight work has shown that fraud in pandemic-related UI programs is rampant. For example, the Department of Justice indicted eight individuals – two who are prisoners - for conspiring to scam $25 million worth of unemployment benefits from California.

Notes about the data

There are many caveats that the public should be aware of when looking at data on pandemic-related unemployment insurance fraud. For example:

1) Fraud is often used interchangeably with the term "improper payments," but fraud is simply a type of improper payment. For example, an accidental overpayment by an agency to an otherwise eligible recipient is another type of improper payment. Where possible, we collected data only on improper payments related to fraud.

2) The data on this page comes from reports from state oversight entities or comments from state workforce agency leaders during interviews or testimony. The timeframes for the estimates vary by state and will likely change as more oversight work is completed. Fraudulent payments can also be recovered, so it’s possible that some states have recovered, or plan to recover, some of the amounts reported.

3) Where possible, we have included fraud estimates from the new federal UI programs. However, in some cases the data may include estimates of fraud found in a state’s traditional UI program.

4) Rhode Island unemployment data sourced through the State of Rhode Island Single Audit 2021 Summary.

5) Finally, it’s important to note that there’s a number of different estimates about the total amount of UI benefits that were paid out to fraudsters. The Department of Labor’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) estimates that $163 billion in UI benefits could be improper, with a significant portion being attributed to fraud. However, the OIG suggests that based on its initial oversight work, that amount will increase.

Page last modified: 03/07/2023
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