About a quarter of a random sample of pandemic unemployment benefit recipients may not have been eligible, according to the Louisiana legislative auditor.

Thirty-seven of 138 claimants (27 percent) who were paid $261,063 had inconsistent or missing information in their applications, which could indicate identity theft or otherwise seeking benefits they were not entitled to, the legislative auditor reported.

The Louisiana Workforce Commission said it has paid out more than $8 billion in benefits to almost a million people since March 2020. Much of that money consisted of federal programs related to the COVID-19 emergency.

The LWC blamed the discrepancies the LLA identified on having to rapidly deploy the federal emergency programs that didn’t have the safeguards state authorities would have preferred. For example, the federal government’s Pandemic Unemployment Assistance originally was designed to let applicants self-certify that they are eligible rather than allowing states to certify the claimant's information as would normally be the case, the LWC said in its response to the report.

“States were given little time and insufficient guidance to get these programs implemented, while also managing a record-breaking surge in claim volume, for which our existing resources were not equipped to handle,” the response letter read.  

The legislative auditor also questioned the LWC’s financial reporting, claiming the commission did not have adequate controls to ensure accurate financial reporting for the Unemployment Trust Fund’s annual report. Federal revenue and amounts due from the federal government were understated by $65.2 million, unemployment insurance benefits expense and other liabilities were understated by $46.5 million and cash was understated by $17.7 million, the LLA found.

The LWC partially agreed with the assessment of its financial reporting, saying “the quantity of claims prevented the accounting staff from downloading claim detail for review and reconciliation.”

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