One bill likely to be revisited in the upcoming special session would create an unemployment fraud unit within Workforce WV.
A state audit showed nearly $83 million filed in false unemployment insurance claims during the pandemic. The U.S. Department of Labor laid much of the blame on organized crime using stolen identity information to apply for unemployment benefits in others’ names.
WorkForce West Virginia already investigates unemployment fraud, but SB 543 will create a criminal justice agency within the department. The unit will include supervisory, legal and investigative workers.
Law enforcement officers within the unit will be trained in computer technology specific to unemployment insurance. They can carry handguns and would have subpoena and warrant powers.
The bill passed both the House and Senate but died without concurrence as the legislative session ended.
Acting WorkForce West Virginia commissioner Scott Adkins said he’s been working closely with the U.S. Attorney offices in West Virginia’s northern and southern districts. He said a designated fraud unit will enhance the scope and strength of the state’s criminal cases.
“What my folks will do is put a package together and deliver it with a nice ribbon on it to the county prosecutor,” Adkins said. “We’re going to go after those folks who fraudulently took the unemployment benefits of five, seven or eight thousand dollars.”
Individuals convicted of unemployment insurance fraud in West Virginia may face up to 30 days in prison and up to $1,000 in fines, plus full restitution of the money received illegally.