For the better part of the past decade, improper and fraudulent unemployment insurance collections have accounted for about 10 percent of all unemployment benefits paid to jobless workers across the U.S. During the most recent Recession, it became abundantly clear why states must cut down on SUI (state unemployment insurance) fraud.
Unfortunately, for many states, the realization came a little too late.
During the height of the Recession, almost 40 states borrowed a combined $50 billion from the Federal Unemployment Trust Administration (FUTA) to continue providing jobless benefits. This much debt required many states to make long-term changes to their unemployment systems by either charging penalties or fees to businesses or by cutting jobless benefits. Many made historic cuts to the number of weeks of aid available, but some—like New Jersey which racked up more than $1.5 billion in debt—took a long, hard look at the administration of their trust.
In New Jersey that long, hard look at the administration of their unemployment trust fund resulted in some spectacular results. Over the past four years New Jersey has identified more than 300,000 people who tried to wrongly collect benefits through identity theft, failure to report a new job, schemes, and honest mistakes. Also:
- The state has stopped borrowing from the federal government to cover its unemployment benefit costs
- Their trust fund is once again considered solvent
- They were able to extend a tax cut to New Jersey businesses because of the trust fund’s solvency
- Just $376 million in debt remains from the height of their borrowing
But what did New Jersey do that set them on the path to successfully rebuild their unemployment trust fund?
They updated their system.
Namely, they began using a strategy referred to as ‘identity proofing.’ With the help of LexisNexis, the state of New Jersey requires applicants to verify a wide range of personal information through a quiz on the state labor department’s website. The questions are specifically developed to be ones that the individual who owns an identity could accurately answer.
Then, using the billions of public records that LexisNexis collects, the answers—which range from what kind of car an applicant has, to who lives at their address—help weed out potential frauds.
Less than a year-and-a-half into the effort, more than $4.4 million in improper payments have already been stopped, and almost 650 instances of identity theft have been avoided.
Want to know how well your state is catching improper payments? The U.S. Department of Labor provides this state-by-state breakdown for 2013.
Read more about how New Jersey is fighting improper payments and unemployment fraud here.