INDIANAPOLIS – Officials with the Indiana Department of Workforce Development addressed issues ranging from the reinstatement of federal pandemic unemployment benefits to fraud during a news conference Friday.
DWD Commissioner Fred Payne said the department’s goal was to make sure claimants who are entitled to unemployment benefits receive them. He believes the state is “moving in the right direction.”
At this time last year, Indiana had an unemployment rate of 11.2%. The unemployment rate now stands at 4.1%, according to the latest data from the agency.
Since March 2020, the state has distributed $8.6 billion to 875,000 people—that’s more than the previous five years combined, giving a sense of the scope of the pandemic crisis.
DWD Workforce Solutions Officer Regina Ashley said the state has restarted three federal pandemic unemployment programs, with the payments being retroactive to the week of June 26—the first week the benefits, which included an extra $300 for claimants and benefits for independent contractors and gig workers, were unavailable.
Payne said the department reached out to the Department of Labor once a judge ruled that the state should continue the programs as the case worked its way through the courts. It took weeks to resume benefits, Payne said, because the state had ended the program and had IT and administrative legwork to do.
About 25,000 payments went out in one day, officials said. The week payments stopped, about 120,000 people had filed for the federal benefits.
Payne and Ashley also addressed the issue of unemployment overpayments. Some workers received letters saying they owed the states thousands or even hundreds of thousands of dollars. Hoosiers who received letters about the overpayments can appeal or request a waiver, they said.
Efforts to get money for the overpayments are supposed to cease once a claimant appeals or requests a waiver until their claim is resolved. If someone made a small error and can prove it wasn’t malicious or an attempt at fraud, they won’t be penalized.
Payne said he understood frustrations by Hoosiers whose claims were held up. However, he insisted that some of the problems were triggered by anti-fraud measures.
“We’ve implemented a variety of measures to block and avoid fraudulent payments from going out,” Payne said, mentioning an enhanced verification process.
Payne said he and his wife were both targets of fraudulent claims.
“The fraudsters don’t stop, but our system protects us,” Payne said.
Those systems prevented $236 million in fraudulent payments, Payne said. The state has paid more than $8 million in fraudulent benefits, he noted, with the numbers likely to rise.
According to Payne, the state’s security measures have stopped 26 million attempted bot attacks.
“We know that it may cause some inconvenience, we’re also making sure we protect the integrity of the process,” Payne said.
He also mentioned a notable scam involving text messages from DWD asking for information, including a person’s username. Payne said the department doesn’t send text messages about unemployment. People should ignore the messages and report them.
According to Payne, more than 90% of unemployment claims have been processed. If a person is waiting more than 21 days, he said there are some “complications” with their matter.
“If they’re eligible, they will receive the benefits they’re eligible for.”
That said, officials conceded that they have a high volume of appeals cases to work through.