Last week, the already-big scandal of D.C. government workers committing unemployment insurance fraud widened considerably. Officials had previously thought that about 130 D.C. government workers collected and cashed city paychecks even as they were cashing unemployment checks -- some for very long periods of time. And the amount of money allegedly stolen by these double-dippers has risen too -- from $800,000 in funds intended for the unemployed to nearly $2 million.
Fortunately, the District has been able to recoup about half of the cash so far. Some of those involved have been placed on payment plans, a couple have been taken to civil or criminal court, and "many," officials say, have been fired.
This scheme was uncovered because it involved city workers. It has been described as the result of a new, sophisticated database, but it sounds more like someone finally thought to check the unemployment and payroll lists against one another. But it might very well be a problem that not everyone in D.C. works for the District government.
On July 22, The Washington Examiner's Alan Blinder reported that Inspector General Charles Willoughby was not that impressed with the District's verification system for unemployment applications. In fact, he thought that "ineligible claimants may be receiving unemployment benefits" besides just the city employees who had already been sniffed out by then.
The D.C. Department of Employment services "lacks an adequate quality assurance mechanism to ensure that all required verifications, whether done manually or by automation, are conducted and all results are recorded prior to issuing initial unemployment benefits," Willoughby wrote in a report released this month. "Because of these deficiencies, ineligible claimants may be receiving unemployment benefits."
Unemployment insurance is not free money. It is a benefit that your employer (and by extension, you) pay for with every paycheck. With Congress extending unemployment benefits to as long as 99 weeks, the accounts that fund the benefit payments in most states have come under considerable pressure. So it is especially disgraceful that city workers would stoop so low as to loot the District's fund. It is also worrisome to know that there might be more thieves still robbing this bank. City officials need to check the list of unemployment beneficiaries twice, so that those benefits go only to the people who earned them on the job and now need them.