Undoubtedly, the last couple of years have been a struggle for many whose jobs and businesses suffered due to the worldwide health crisis and economic shutdown. Mississippi continues to have one of the highest unemployment rates across the country, and claims for unemployment benefits reached $118 million. Unfortunately, officials now believe that they may have paid significant amounts of money to applicants committing unemployment fraud.
Auditors poured over the state’s records and reported that during the early days of the recent crisis, some recipients of unemployment benefits were ineligible, including some who are in jail and others who did not lose their jobs. The unprecedented worldwide events left the Department of Employment Security overwhelmed with claims for benefits, and authorities suspended many of the normal standards for eligibility. For example, applicants did not have to actively seek employment to qualify for benefits.
What happens next?
Authorities are unsure how many applicants used false information or stolen identities to obtain benefits. It is also not clear if or when authorities will file charges against those who applied for and received funds for which they were ineligible. However an upcoming audit will likely shed more light on the situation.
Similar situations are apparently occurring in other states, with billions of dollars paid to applicants who did not qualify. For those who do end up facing charges, it may be difficult for authorities to prove whether their actions constitute employment fraud or honest mistakes. Additionally, a glaring factor in any prosecution may be the errors, omissions and oversights within the MDES.