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Evers fails to address unemployment fraud concerns

By M.D. Kittle

MADISON  — Gov. Tony Evers’ Department of Workforce Development has been a model of failure.

Now Wisconsin’s Republican congressional delegation is calling on the U.S. Department of Labor to review the state’s unemployment insurance programs to determine the extent of waste, fraud, and abuse within.

The effort comes a day after Assembly Democrats sustained Gov. Tony Evers’ veto of Republican legislation that would have ended the $300 weekly federal unemployment bonus payment to claimants. The enhanced benefit, created to assist jobless Americans through the pandemic, is seen as a driving factor behind a worker shortage crisis in the Badger State and many parts of the country.

More than a month ago, U.S. Rep. Mike Gallagher (R-Allouez) led members of the delegation in calling on Evers to clarify his administration’s past and present efforts to prevent unemployment fraud in light of reports that suggested up to $400 billion of these funds may have been stolen.

That request for information has fallen on deaf ears.

“As I’ve said, Wisconsin taxpayers deserve full transparency as to whether or not their hard-earned tax dollars went to criminals,” Gallagher said. “If the governor is going to unwisely continue this program, we should, at a minimum, get a basic understanding of whether these funds have been stolen or abused.”

A recent report by the Center for Research on the Wisconsin Economy (CROWE) at the University of Wisconsin-Madison found the Evers administration has failed to check fraudulent activity. Amid growing reports of rampant fraud, the fraud detection rate has plummeted to near zero, with detected fraud cases down 41 percent as claims have exploded, according to the report — “The (Poor) Performance of the Unemployment System During COVID-19 in the United States and (Especially) Wisconsin”

Wisconsin’s Republican congressional delegation sent a letter to the U.S. Department of Labor’s acting inspector general asking the agency to look into state unemployment insurance programs nationwide.

“We’ve now seen estimates of hundreds of billions of dollars in waste, fraud and abuse related to federal unemployment assistance,” said U.S.Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Oshkosh). “We can’t keep pushing this down the road. I urge Governor Evers to act to protect taxpayers and help get people back to work.”

The letter notes that the lawmakers in May urged Evers to end the bonus payments under the Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation program to “get Wisconsinites back to work.” They followed up with the letter in June asking the governor what he was doing to protect the federal taxpayer money.

“The Governor has consistently failed to be transparent or provide leadership when it comes to the Wisconsin unemployment system. While the Governor may be okay with the status quo, I am not,” said U.S. Rep. Bryan Steil (R-Janesville). “The reports of potential fraud are troubling and we need to take the necessary actions to protect taxpayers.”

Read the letter here.

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