Bipartisan measure will protect unemployed Southwest Washington workers from paying for Employment Security Department errors
WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, President Donald Trump signed into law COVID relief legislation that included a Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler led bipartisan measure to issue hardship waivers for congressionally-approved Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) overpayments by state unemployment agencies.
With Herrera Beutler’s bill now law, states may waive PUA overpayments when the individual receiving the jobless benefits is not at fault and in which the collection of overpayments would create further financial harm.
“Folks who are already struggling to make ends meet should not find themselves in debt or have paychecks garnished because of Washington’s Employment Security Department’s own mistakes in issuing unemployment benefits,” Herrera Beutler said. “I’m pleased this legislative effort to give struggling residents relief from this type of financial burden is now law and I will keep working to assist Southwest Washington citizens with unemployment benefits however I can.”
A rush to get money out the door and a lack of proper security contributed to unemployment claims fraud that cost the state of Washington at least $600 million dollars this year.
That’s the short version of a report released earlier this month by Washington State Auditor Pat McCarthy, which found that the Employment Security Department (ESD) lacked adequate internal controls, and the state’s Office of Financial Management (OFM) improperly reported the impact of the fraud.
The audit report was the first, high-level accounting of what led the state to pay an estimated 122,000 “known or possible” fraudulent claims, and one of five expected reports on the matter.
“This audit is a building block – it is the first in a series that will examine the fraud at the ESD,” McCarthy said in a press release on Dec. 18. “We are still learning about what happened and vetting the information. I expect more clarity in the months to come.”
The estimated number of fraudulent claims was a 41 percent increase over what ESD had previously noted. The agency said in a release on Dec. 16 that the increase came after claims previously considered suspicious were confirmed through ongoing investigations.
The $600 million estimated cost of the fraudulent claims was also an increase from the previously reported $576 million, though the state has previously said the amount could be as high as $650 million.