On Wednesday, a newly-revealed report claimed that, from March of 2020 to September of 2021, the state of Michigan allegedly paid as much as $8.5 billion in fraudulent unemployment claims, according to The Hill.
The claims were made in an audit of Michigan’s state Unemployment Insurance Agency (UIA), conducted by the firm Deloitte. The audit further claims that an additional $52.2 billion in fraudulent claims were attempted with the UIA, of which the agency rejected $43.7 billion. The remaining $8.5 billion was ultimately paid out.
“It’s extremely disheartening that bad actors have defrauded the much-needed benefits intended for hard-working Michiganders and the scale of their actions is stunning,” said UIA director Julia Dale.
In response to the audit, Governor Gretchen Whitmer (D-Mich.) signed two new executive orders; one order created the Unemployment Insurance Fraud Response Team, while the other implemented stricter measures and more advanced technology for the purpose of recovering stolen money.
“It’s extremely important that we continue to push back on bad actors who look to take advantage of a vital safety net resource for out-of-work Michiganders,” Whitmer said in a statement. “While we are seeing increased success in identifying and stopping fraudulent claims, we cannot let up. We owe it to workers to make sure this jobs resource is available when they need it the most.”
Whitmer nevertheless faced backlash on social media for her administration’s poor handling of unemployment compensation during the pandemic. Gustavo Portela, the communications director for the Michigan Republican Party, declared that “Whitmer’s administration can’t be trusted to provide the help needed for people in a crisis,” and that the Michigan GOP would “replace her next year with a Republican governor who won’t let fraudsters walk away with billions of taxpayer dollars.”
The pandemic led to Michigan experiencing a record-high number of unemployment claims, with up to 77 times more claims per week than a regular week before the pandemic. In the spring of 2020, this trend peaked with 388,000 claims in just one week, compared to the previous record of 77,000 claims in a single week in the midst of the 2008 economic crisis. The average number of weekly claims prior to the pandemic was about 5,000.