BATON ROUGE, La. (WDSU) – More than $405 million in unemployment benefits were given to ineligible recipients in Louisiana between January and September 2020, according to the Legislative Auditor. The money went to 97,585 people who shouldn’t have received it, its audit said.
An audit report released Monday said the Louisiana Workforce Commission, which administers unemployment benefits, attributes the improper benefits to two factors — a major surge in claims from COVID-19 pandemic job losses, and a delay in employers reporting second-quarter wages.
According to the Legislative Auditor, the Louisiana Workforce Commission received a weekly average of 88,717 claims for unemployment benefits between the weeks ending March 21 and April 18. The weekly average for all of 2019 was 1,996. The huge increase in early spring 2020 led to a backlog of applicant forms used to confirm benefit eligibility that the LWC staff has struggled to address, the audit said.
The Louisiana Workforce Commission told auditors it makes eligibility determinations based on the information it receives from applicants if their employers do not provide any supporting documentation. The agency did not track the number of employers who did not provide information, the audit report said.
The Louisiana Legislature last year allowed employers to delay filing their second-quarter wage reports to ease their paperwork burden and defer the associated payroll taxes to account for the pandemic’s strain on businesses. The Louisiana Workforce Commission uses payroll data to confirm benefit eligibility, and the audit said LWC staff had to make eligibility decisions without that information, according to the Legislative Auditor.
The legislature’s permitted delay led to $45.7 million in benefits being paid out between Aug. 1 and Sept. 15, 2020, to 26,703 individuals who do not appear to be eligible, the Louisiana Workforce Commission told auditors.
The payments to ineligible claimants include money from the state’s unemployment insurance program and, as of March 22, 2020, federal pandemic unemployment assistance.
More than half of the improper payments, $252 million, were issued between April 1 and June 30.
The workforce commission continues to investigate individuals who received more benefits than the wages they previously received would allow, the audit report said. The Legislative Auditor recommended the agency continue its efforts to identify fraud and recover improper payments.