Fraud cases climb in Georgia as jobless claims remain high

More than 450,000 Georgians are receiving unemployment benefits, the only safety net for many during the prolonged coronavirus pandemic.

State officials say they are dealing with unprecedented numbers as they try to get benefits to those who need and qualify for help. But they also say they say are also dealing with a huge number of those who don’t qualify and are looking to take advantage of the crisis.

Some have filed false claims, with bogus information or using other people’s identities. And some — about 10,000 people in the past five months — are getting unemployment payments though they have returned to work, according to state Labor Commissioner Mark Butler.

“We are now having to address potential fraud on a phenomenal scale,” he said in a statement.

If officials find out a person is taking benefits while working, the state may ask to be repaid. And, if a person intentionally supplied false information, he or she could be guilty of fraud and subject to fines or jail, Butler said.

A number of investigations into various kinds of fraud are underway as the state grapples with the ninth consecutive week in which claims were higher than 25,000. That’s roughly five times as high as claims were in the year before the pandemic, officials said.

The number of new jobless claims rose last week in Georgia, a sign that layoffs continue at recession-like levels.

The state processed 28,387 new claims, according to the Georgia Department of Labor.

The stubbornly high level of initial claims is indicative of an economy that is struggling, said former Federal Reserve economist Claudia Sahm.

“This is not progress,” she said. “Any other time in lived memory, we would be wailing over such massive claims. And it applies to the national, as well as the state level.”

About 745,000 Americans filed for unemployment benefits from their states last week, plus 437,000 claims filed under federal programs for freelancers, part-timers and gig workers who are not usually eligible for benefits.

In Georgia, nearly 4.5 million initial claims have been filed in the past year — more than the combined totals of the previous nine years. Accommodation and food services has consistently been the hardest-hit sector. Last week, it was again the largest source of claims, with more than 5,700 laid-off workers filing for benefits.

Weekly jobless claims, Georgia

Worst, pre-pandemic: 41,522 (Jan. 10, 2010)

Highest, pandemic: 390,132 (April 4, 2020)

Average, pre-pandemic: 5,548

Average, last four weeks: 28,188

Last week: 28,387

Total since March 21: 4.5 million

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

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Georgia weekly jobless claims

week ending

Jan. 2: 31,458

Jan. 9: 37,039

Jan. 16: 35,912

Jan. 23: 28,016

Jan. 30: 27,215

Feb. 6: 32,386

Feb. 13: 26,532

Feb. 20: 25,447

Feb. 27: 28,387

Sources: Georgia Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration

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