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Illinois Republicans call for hearings on $2 billion in pandemic unemployment assistance fraud

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ST CHARLES – Frustrated by the recently-released state audit showing nearly $2 billion of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) that were intended for Illinoisans was tied to fraud, a group of Illinois House members called for hearings on how the Illinois Department of Employment security handled the emergency situation.

Republicans in Illinois can only call for such hearings – the Illinois Democrats that control the Illinois General Assembly dominate both chambers with super-majority status in each. 

“Learning that almost $2 billion was paid out to fraudsters from IDES during a time when Illinoisans critically needed this assistance is appalling,” said Rep. Dan Ugaste. “The General Assembly must hold this agency accountable for such inexcusable mismanagement in a time of crisis for many Illinois residents. These are taxpayer dollars. We need to get to the bottom of this issue immediately, starting with legislative hearings.”

The PUA federal program provided benefits for individuals “determined ineligible for state unemployment benefits, including self-employed workers and independent contractors,” according to IDES. This applied to individuals unqualified for regular unemployment insurance who were unavailable or unable to work for reasons because of COVID-19 that were allowed by federal law. This audit disclosed that nearly $1.9 billion of $3.6 billion in PUA paid between June 2020 and July 2021 was tied to fraud. This covered a great deal of the time period of the program’s operation.

According to the Chicago Tribune, an investigation they published last year identified “problems in Illinois were exacerbated” by the department’s failure in adopting fraud-fighting tools that were free and made available prior to the pandemic, per federal recommendations. The Tribune also highlighted that IDES was slow with developing additional procedures to detect fraud and those failures were not reviewed in the audit.

Rep. Ugaste previously joined State Representative Tim Butler (R-Springfield), former State Rep. Terri Bryant (R-Murphysboro), and Congressman Rodney Davis (R-Taylorville) in a 2020 Zoom video press conference calling Governor Pritzker to fix the problems of fraud at IDES.

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