Hear From An Expert
The following is audio and a transcript of an interview between Josh McKenna, Benefits Bureau Chief at the Idaho Department of Labor, and KIDO's Dave Burnett about unemployment insurance benefits and preventing fraud.
Dave: This is Idaho Insights, I’m Dave Burnett. Thank you for joining us today. We’re talking to Josh McKenna. He is with the Unemployment Insurance Benefits Bureau Chief - that’s your official title. Josh, thanks for joining us.
Josh: Thank you. It’s good to be here.
Dave: You are, of course with the Employment Services with the State of Idaho. We have something serious to talk about here. While nobody really wants to be on unemployment, unfortunately sometimes people take advantage of that system.
Josh: That’s correct. We do see a small amount of fraud in our state.
Dave: Which cost all of us as taxpayers some extra dollars as well because somebody pays for that. Somebody has to pay for the legal parts involved in that. When it comes to fraud, what kind of frauds are there with unemployment?
Josh: We actually see several different types. We see situations where individuals have returned back work and continue to claim benefits. Individuals who may not report their earnings correctly, as well as individuals who have to look for work and are choosing not to look for work.
Dave: Now, of course, unemployment has been very high over the past several years so unfortunately there are a lot of people that know how the system works. But, for somebody who has been fortunate and not had to take advantage of the system that is offered there by the state and by the federal government, what’s the process? If I lose my job what is the process and it’s just through layoffs? What’s the process I go through?
Josh: What happens is that individual becomes unemployed they come in and they file for benefits we file all of claims directly over the Internet. They certainly can go to one of 25 local offices in the state. Or they could certainly do it from home or a local library. They would go online, file the claim, and then from there we would go ahead and process that. They then do a weekly report where we ultimately pay them the benefits that they’re entitled to.
Dave: So that weekly report is done through the Internet or in the office either way?
Josh: The weekly report is done via the Internet.
Dave: Is this where the fraud sometimes starts?
Josh: Right. We see that situation happen where they’re asked a series of questions during that process and they’re asked to answer truthfully when they don’t answer them truthfully on that weekly report then we see that fraud can certainly happen.
Dave: Why does it happen? I mean I think there are some obvious reasons. Some people are just greedy and want as much money as they can get for what they deserve. But what are some of the reasons how this happens?
Josh: I think that the reasons we see it happen is certainly the situation where the individual may need the money, but also situations where the individual doesn’t necessarily read what we have advised them of, read the materials they’re provided and unfortunately give incorrect answers.
Dave: OK, let’s put those who are criminals just trying to take advantage system out of the equation for right now. So sometimes just misunderstanding or not fully understanding it- I guess you would say through ignorance that there is fraud that takes place that way?
Josh: Right, we see that happen and I guess the best thing that those individuals can do is contact us if they are confused or they don’t quite know what question means or is asking contact us and get some additional details we can at least get things straightened away and certainly in those cases they would not be committing fraud because they are trying to determine the right thing to do.
Dave: So if somebody’s discovered, ‘you know what, I have been doing this wrong’ it’s not like you’re going to chase them down once you find that out? You just going to want to get it corrected.
Dave: Let’s talk about how and what is the state doing to help to reduce fraud right now?
Josh: We’re actually doing several things. We are on a campaign right now to alert our customers as to the correct way of reporting. We’re also improving the written materials that we have and really trying to make an effort to make sure that folks know what the right thing to do is. We’re doing in-person interviews. We do work search verification that’s a fairly new, or I guess it’s not really new but improved process that we actually verify a good percentage of the work research contacts that people provide in a week.
Dave: So that is one of the requirements if I’m unemployed then I have to tell you where I have been looking for work?
Josh: Correct, for a given week we may ask them where they looked for work and then we contact those businesses and confirm whether that’s correct.
Dave: To make sure that is true.
Dave: Because the whole purpose of the unemployment is to help someone while they get back on their feet, not to be a lifestyle.
Josh: Exactly. One of our goals and one of our initiatives that we’re trying to make is we see all of our customers as not unemployment claimants we see them as job seekers. We provide a lot of good services to help them obtain work. That’s really our push right now is to get them back to work.
Dave: Well let’s talk about the consequences of fraud. First of all for that somebody who is doing it unknowingly. Consequences?
Josh: An individual who if it’s simply they’re doing it unknowingly and it was simply an accident or a misunderstanding- in those cases -what could happen is that they would receive an overpayment they have to pay those benefits back. The individuals who are doing it willfully we have penalties on top of the benefits they have to pay back.
Dave: Let’s talk a little about that if somebody is just trying to bilk the system as it were and get as much they can out of it and figure they can pull one off on you. What are the possible criminal charges?
Josh: Yeah, actually we certainly can charge them with criminal charges. That’s not really one of our goals to have a high amount of prosecutions, but there is the potential for legal penalties if they do report incorrectly. But on a bigger scale it’s really the monetary penalties. We deny them their benefits for those weeks that they committed the fraud as well charge them a 25%, a 50%, or 100% penalty on top of that.
Dave: So the bottom line is, you know what, it’s probably not worth the deception to try to get the little bit of extra money you’re going to get out of it.
Josh: Correct. The bigger issue with this is that ultimately they’re not eligible for benefits until they pay that money back either, so they may need the money a short-term fix right now, but at some point in the future if they become unemployed again they won’t be receiving any money. It’s one of those tradeoffs that they have a pretty significant impact if they don’t do it correctly.
Dave: What is the length of time right now if I were to become unemployed this week? How long can I collect unemployment at this point?
Josh: Right now when you originally come in you can be eligible for anywhere between 10 to 26 weeks worth of benefits. Because of the difficulties I guess the economy nationwide has had for the last 3 or 4 years, individuals are eligible for additional weeks I believe it is up to an additional 28 weeks on top of that, but at the end of the year that federal extension will be going away.
Dave: Okay, so that’s something that is going to be short lived. Hopefully we can get the economy stepping up another notch or two. And again when it comes back to fraud would you say, what’s the percentage of people who knowingly are trying to commit fraud? Do you have any figures on that?
Josh: I would guess that- our figures are we detect about 2% of individuals actually commit the fraud. I would guess the number might be slightly higher, but for the most part most of our customers are doing what they’re supposed to be doing. They’re trying to simply make ends meet, and return back to work. So most of our customers are certainly doing what they’re supposed to be. It’s unfortunate for the ones that aren’t that give everyone the bad name.
Dave: If somebody knows or finds out of somebody who they know that is committing a fraud, can that be reported anonymously, or how do they go about that?
Josh: Sure, we have two ways they can do it anonymously. They can go into our website- we have a location on website on the main page that says “report fraud.” They can click on that link and report it online. We also have fraud tip line that they can call into. They can leave a message. They can also contact one of our local offices. They don’t have to give out their name, but they could provide the information to one of our staff members and our staff members will investigate it and see if what the individual might be doing is fraud.
Dave: We are talking with Josh McKenna today. He is with the Employment Office, and the Unemployment Insurance Benefits Bureau Chief. That is a great title.
Josh: Yes, It’s a pretty long title actually.
Dave: It’s very good. Well Josh we do appreciate you coming in and hopefully we can make people aware of fraud. In just a short paragraph or two, what you like people to know and come away with today understanding this?
Josh: I guess what I would like people to know is that they do need to report correctly. If they do have questions please give us a call. Really that the short-term gain does not pay off in the end.
Dave: And a place to contact the employment service - how do they contact you?
Josh: They can contact us at any of our 25 local offices statewide. We are located here at Boise at 219 Main St., so they can contact our office there or really any of our offices statewide.
Dave: And the state website?
Josh: The website is labor.idaho.gov.
Dave: Josh McKenna Unemployment Insurance Benefits Bureau Chief for the state of Idaho. As we’re talking a little bit about unemployment fraud that does take place. Again, if you know if you of somebody who is committing fraud you can report them. If maybe you found out that unknowingly you have not been reporting correctly contact them and help work that through. This is Idaho Insights. Josh, thank you so much for joining us today.
Josh: Thanks for having me.