Pandemic unemployment fraud estimate skyrockets as true amount 'may never be known': report

Pandemic unemployment fraud estimate skyrockets as true amount 'may never be known': report
MIAMI SPRINGS, FLORIDA - JULY 16: Carlos Ponce joins other demonstrators participating in a protest asking Senators to support the continuation of unemployment benefits on July 16, 2020 in Miami Springs, Florida. The protesters were asking Senators to support the new Schumer/Wyden legislation that extends unemployment benefits for all laid-off Americans as the coronavirus pandemic continues to disrupt the economy. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images.

Nonpartisan watchdog the United States Government Accountability Office estimates that at least $135 in federal unemployment relief funds amid the COVID-19 crisis were lost through fraud, according to a new study, CNN's Shawna Mizelle and Tami Luhby report.

"The whopping figure, which equates to as much as 15% of total unemployment benefits distributed during the pandemic, is a notable bump up from the $60 billion the watchdog agency had previously estimated in January," CNN writes. "In comments on a draft of the GAO report, the Department of Labor said the office is likely overestimating the actual amount of fraud. However, the department's Office of Inspector General in February said in testimony before a House committee that at least $191 billion in pandemic unemployment benefits payments could have been improper, with "a significant portion attributable to fraud."

CNN continues, "The GAO pushed back on the department's assertions in its report and stood by the methodology used.

The agency said, "Given that not all potential fraud will be investigated and adjudicated through judicial or other systems, the full extent of UI fraud during the pandemic will likely never be known with certainty. Therefore, it is appropriate to rely on estimates, such as ours, to make more comprehensive conclusions about the extent of fraud in the UI programs during the pandemic."

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CNN notes that "the findings released on Tuesday shed light on the numerous schemes to steal money from a range of hastily implemented pandemic relief programs, which have drawn the attention of congressional lawmakers and prompted legislative action. Last year, President Joe Biden signed two bipartisan bills into law aimed at holding individuals who commit fraud under pandemic relief programs accountable.

READ MORE: Fraudsters stole over $280 billion in pandemic relief funds: report

Mizelle's and Duhby's full scoop is available at this link.

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