LWC: Fraudulent jobless claims could range from 28,000 to nearly 150,000

The Louisiana Workforce Commission has referred more than 28,000 cases of suspected unemployment insurance fraud to state investigators.

But the actual number of fraudulent claims could be much higher.

Administrators with the LWC told members of the Joint Legislative Budget Committee today that in addition to the 28,000 cases of suspected fraud, there’s another 60,000 potentially fraudulent claims their office is looking into.

Beyond that, some 50,000-60,000 additional claims have raised red flags within the LWC because applicants, after filing their initial applications, failed to follow up with the department by uploading additional documents that were requested.

“If you have filed and we have asked you several times over the past two months to send us additional documents and you have not replied, that could be fraud,” LWC Assistant Secretary of Unemployment Insurance Robert Wooley told the committee.

LWC officials say it is unlikely that all of the nearly 150,000 applications in question are fraudulent, but they acknowledge the numbers are high.

LWC Secretary Ava Dejoie told lawmakers this morning that the agency was able to identify the problem when the bulk of suspicious applications poured in late last fall and that her office continues to work on it.

The problem with fraudulent claims has troubled local business owners, some of whom have received verification claims from supposedly former employees who never actually worked for them.

On the other end, it has added layers of bureaucracy to a process that has been frustratingly slow for some legitimately unemployed workers. Rep. Aimee Freeman, D-New Orleans, told Dejoie she hears from constituents who have been trying unsuccessfully for months in some cases to get benefits.

In yet another headache for the LWC, funds, which last year at this time topped $1.1 billion, continue to run low. As of today, they total around $11 million.

Last week, the agency paid out $6 million in benefits, Dejoie told lawmakers.

But the fund is not expected to be depleted, as the LWC is able to borrow money, interest free, from the federal government.