The burden on state benefits agencies is heavier than ever in the wake of the pandemic, particularly with unemployment insurance (UI) claims. Along with skyrocketing claims came numerous reports of improper or fraudulent payments in virtually every state. Of the $500 billion in regular and pandemic-related unemployment aid distributed in 2020, an estimated $36 billion were thought to be claimed fraudulently.
Fortunately, safeguards can ensure unemployment insurance integrity, and one state in particular has received national recognition for its program. Earlier this year, the Unemployment Insurance Division of the Utah Department of Workforce Services received four performance excellence awards from the U.S. Department of Labor for unemployment insurance appeals decisions, tax operations, benefit payments, and program integrity.
While the award recognized the Workforce Services' Appeals Division for resolving issues and providing fair hearings in a timely and efficient manner, Utah is also a top-performing state when it comes to addressing and preventing instances of fraud and overpayments. Some claims have been made by incarcerated individuals, who are ineligible to receive unemployment benefits, as they are unable to actively search for employment — one of the primary criteria necessary for eligibility.
While most workforce agencies have measures in place to research filed claims, many do not have the time, data, or resources to scrutinize each claim to the maximum extent needed to determine fraudulent activity. This often results in payments to ineligible claimants, in some cases to individuals who are incarcerated.
Accuracy is key to Utah UI payments
Utah relies on Appriss Insights’ Incarceration Intelligence solution for access to accurate, real-time, nation-wide incarceration data and alerts to locate and monitor beneficiaries, with the end goal of eliminating improper payments and increasing savings. Agencies are able to place “watches” on their UI claimant lists and receive alerts when a monitored claimant is booked into custody, released from custody, or incarcerated for a certain “length of stay.”
The solution has proven its value. In 2019, Utah had one of the nation's lowest improper payment rates for unemployment insurance — 4.1% compared to the national average of 10.7%. Under the two unemployment programs funded by the federal CARES Act, Utah's payment accuracy rate is currently more than 97%, according to the Utah Department of Workforce Services.
Prior to the pandemic, the state handled an average of 70,000 claims per year. By the fall of 2020, the Workforce Services Division had received nearly 350,000 claims totaling $1.6 billion – equivalent to the previous eight years. Monitoring UI fraud is more important than ever, said Kevin Burt, the state’s Unemployment Insurance Division Director.
“Working an enormous volume of claims, it’s a challenge to ensure we’re paying out benefits as quickly as possible to the people who need them,” Burt said. “We want to be accurate with taxpayers’ dollars.”
Real-time alerts on incarcerated individuals reduce the burden on the agency’s staff to root out false claims, Burt added. “Some people will find the vulnerability within your state. By remaining proactive, our state is ahead of the curve in preventing improper payments.”
Benefits of Incarceration Intelligence for Workforce Agencies
Today, Appriss partners with more than 15 workforce agencies to combat UI fraud. Some of the benefits our customers have realized include:
- Agency savings: Increased agency savings through prevention of improper payments made to ineligible, incarcerated recipients.
- Recovery of dollars: Identification and recovery of dollars lost through previous improper payments.
- Conduct searches: Collectively, our workforce agency customers conduct over 48 million searches and save more than $100 million in improper payments each year.
Appriss’ Incarceration Intelligence solution gives state workforce agencies access to accurate, timely data that allows agencies to identify and cease fraudulent unemployment insurance payments.