In addition, according to the US Government Accountability Office, the Department of Labor’s weekly report on unemployment claims does not provide an accurate estimate of the number of people applying for unemployment benefits during the pandemic. This is because the backlog of processing historical claims has overwhelmed many state agencies and other data issues.
The gap lies in the temporary pandemic unemployment assistance program, which was enacted by Congress last spring to provide benefits for self-employed, odd jobs, independent contractors and certain people affected by the coronavirus outbreak.
GAO stated that most states have been paying minimum benefits to the program’s claimants instead of the minimum amount based on their previous income. Most states decided to do this initially to get the new program up and running faster, but then did not recalculate the income based on actual income.
The state should make up the difference by the applicant, but the Department of Labor told the General Administration of Government that it does not know how many states have begun to do so. The California website stated that as of October 30, it will recalculate the payment based on the individual̵
Among the 41 states that reported the pandemic plan in September, the average weekly benefit payment ranged from $114 to $357.
Since the implementation of the pandemic unemployment assistance program, the road has been difficult. It has been the target of national fraud.
Take California as an example. By the end of August, claims for continuing pandemic diseases increased significantly. Therefore, New York State temporarily stopped accepting new requirements in September and implemented a new identity verification process to combat fraud. Its previous anti-fraud efforts resulted in a decline of more than 72% in pandemic unemployment assistance claims.
The Department of Labor, state agencies and the US Secret Service are all conducting fraud investigations involving hundreds of millions of dollars in taxpayer funds.
It is unclear how many people are receiving relief
The report also highlighted the problem of assessing how many people are receiving unemployment benefits during this historically high claim period. For example, if a person submits claims for multiple weeks at a time, then each week is counted as a separate claim-it seems that more Americans are unemployed than they actually are.
The state’s weekly reporting of claims is not consistent. In Arizona, for example, due to suspected fraud, nearly 2.3 million pandemic unemployment assistance requests were reported in one week, but not the following week.
Accurate data is very important, especially because legislators must decide in the coming weeks whether to extend the two major pandemic unemployment benefits they created in March in response to the epidemic. The pandemic unemployment assistance program and the pandemic emergency unemployment compensation program provide additional 13 weeks of benefits, both of which expire at the end of the year.
GAO recommends that the Department of Labor revise its weekly press release to clarify that the figures it reports do not accurately estimate the number of Americans requesting relief payments and seek options for reporting correct data.
The department agrees with these two recommendations, but does not support retrospective reporting of more accurate data.
According to the latest weekly report from the Department of Labor, 9.1 million people are receiving pandemic unemployment benefits, and 4.5 million people are receiving expanded pandemic emergency unemployment benefits.