The Tribune Democrat, Johnstown, PA

Local News

February 21, 2013

Pa. tops nation in jobless aid fraud

HARRISBURG — Pennsylvania paid out more in improper unemployment benefits than any other state in the nation – totaling $690 million in 2012, according to estimates by the federal Department of Labor.

The state paid three times more in improper payments than neighboring states New Jersey, New York and Ohio.

The state Department of Labor and Industry believes the federal data is inflated, but even if the state’s adjustment is made, Pennsylvania still paid about double the overpayments of the neighboring states.

In response to the problem, Pennsylvania has launched a number of fraud-busting strategies to prevent people from collecting improper payments and recoup the money from people who should not have received it, said Sara Goulet, press secretary for the state Department of Labor and Industry.

The Labor Department announced earlier this year that it has launched an initiative to crack down on county inmates who are improperly collecting unemployment while sitting in jail. But the federal data indicates that fraud by inmates and others who are not “able and available to work” only accounted for 1.5 percent of the unemployment fraud in Pennsylvania over a three-year period ending in 2012.

Much more common was fraud involving cases where people didn’t bother looking for work or found jobs and continued collecting unemployment, which accounted for more than one-third of the overpayments. The other major problem involved episodes in which an employee was fired or quit and then obtained unemployment, which accounted for about one-quarter of the improper payments.

The first and easiest way to ensure that people do not get improper unemployment benefits after they get jobs would be that those workers would stop reapplying for benefits.

However, if a worker continues to apply for benefits, the Labor Department will not realize that the worker should be bumped off the unemployment rolls until the employer files paperwork indicating that the person has been hired.

The Labor Department has begun to use a federal New Hire Database to more quickly identify when people who have been collecting unemployment land jobs, Goulet said. Using the new database helped the department decrease improper payments to no-longer-unemployed workers by

$30 million from fiscal 2011 to fiscal 2012, Goulet said.

Pennsylvania had not previously documented such a prevalent issue with people reportedly collecting benefits while not satisfying work search requirements, Goulet said.

The Labor Department has created an unemployment integrity task force to sort out how to solve some of those problems, she said.

In March, state Rep. Fred Keller, a Republican from Union County, plans to introduce legislation that would tackle the issue of uncertainty over whether an employee is qualified to collect unemployment.

The bill would spell out more clearly that a worker should not qualify for unemployment if he or she loses a job for violating work rules, threatening others in the workplace, showing up to work intoxicated, or repeatedly missing work without a legitimate excuse.

Keller said the intent of the legislation is to help make sure that people who lost their jobs through no fault of their own can get benefits, but that employers and other workers are not expected to help provide benefits to people who have lost their jobs for improper workplace conduct.

While Pennsylvania paid out more in improper payments than any other state, the error rate in the state’s Unemployment Compensation program is not as high as the error rates in Indiana and Nebraska, Goulet said.

In addition to trying to do a better job of preventing benefits from going to people who don’t qualify for them, the state is garnishing federal income tax refunds to recoup improper benefits, Goulet said.

In November, the state began notifying nearly 18,000 people that they owed a combined total of almost $81 million and that the Labor Department would intercept their federal tax refunds. The state received $5.3 million this way in just two weeks, so far this year.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat print edition.

Click here to subscribe to The Tribune-Democrat e-edition.

1
Text Only | Photo Reprints
Local News
  • fire_23 Investigators seek cause of West End fire

    The cause of a five-alarm fire early Monday at a vacant structure in the 500 block of Dorothy Avenue in Johnstown’s West End has not been determined, according to city fire officials.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Richland seeks loan for roof, HVAC work

    Richland Township’s plans to replace the municipal building’s roof and heating and air conditioning system will cost nearly $600,000, Solicitor Gary Costlow said.

    July 22, 2014

  • Undocumented children already arriving in state

    An influx of unaccompanied children crossing the U.S. border is spilling over into Pennsylvania, as state officials received word Monday that more than 500 are being housed in the commonwealth.

    July 22, 2014

  • Auditor cites flaws in gas drilling regulation

    Strained by limited resources and the rapid expansion of natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania, environmental regulators have failed to adequately monitor well safety or to provide clear and timely information to citizens, the state auditor general said Tuesday.

    July 22, 2014

  • Driver in fatal DUI crash will serve jail time

    A Vintondale man was sentenced Tuesday in Cambria County court to serve 16 to 32 months in the county jail for a 2011 alcohol-related crash that killed a woman.

    July 22, 2014

  • Tribune Treasure!

    July 22, 2014

  • Reade Twp. water projects receive funding

    Three water treatment systems in Cambria County will receive financial assistance from the state Department of Environmental Protection to remove acid mine drainage from nearby waterways.

    July 22, 2014

  • stoystown Tractor Fest Antique tractors chugging toward Stoystown fest

    A display of a whole lotta horsepower and pulling contests will highlight the 14th annual Antique Tractor Festival.
    Sponsored by Stoystown Lions Club and Laurel Highlands Antique Power Club, the event will be held July 31 through Aug. 3 at the Lions’ park, one-half mile east of Stoystown on Route 30.

    July 22, 2014 1 Photo

  • Irish dance school wants to set toes tapping in Cambria County

    If you ever wanted to learn to dance an Irish jig, now is your chance.
    Kenny Cavanaugh School of Irish Dance, based out of Milford, Pike County, is expanding into Cambria County.

    July 22, 2014

  • Paterno son, other former assistant sue Penn State for $1M

    A son of late Penn State football coach Joe Paterno has sued the university over his dismissal from its coaching staff two years ago, saying he has been unfairly linked to the Jerry Sandusky child molestation scandal.

    July 22, 2014

Poll

What is the biggest key to reducing gun violence in Johnstown?

Tackling the area's drug problem.
Controlling folks moving into city housing.
Monitoring folks in treatment centers and halfway houses.
Tougher sentencing by the court system.
More police on the streets.

     View Results
House Ads