A measure now on Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s desk aims to go after fraud from during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The U.S. Congress approved more than $4.5 trillion of taxpayer funding to provide relief during the COVID-19 pandemic. The latest tally from USASpending.gov show Illinois’ public and private sectors were given more than $107 billion.
The Peter G. Peterson Foundation shows Illinois bringing in nearly $162 billion. That equals around $12,783 per capita.
One of the major areas of known fraud was in the unemployment system. Illinois lost nearly $2 billion in funds due to fraudulent unemployment claims. However, still unknown is the entire scope of all the fraud.
State Rep. Dan Caulkins, R-Decatur, said the issue is a real breach of taxpayer trust.
“It was extremely problematic and we still to this day don’t know how badly Illinois got ripped off in our unemployment fraud,” Caulkins told The Center Square. “We also had the [Paycheck Protection Program] fraud people were claiming.”
Of all unemployment programs, the total taxpayer cost for Illinois was $25.9 billion, according to The Peter G. Peterson Foundation. The Paycheck Protection Program for Illinois cost taxpayers $38.1 billion. Among other COVID-19 spending, the state and local recovery funds totaled $14 billion.
House Bill 3304 extends the statute of limitations for the prosecution of any fraudulent activity connected to COVID-19-related programs, “to include the Paycheck Protection Program, COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, and the Unemployment Benefit Programs.”
The measure passed unanimously out of both chambers. It was sent to Pritzker Friday. He has until Aug. 8 to act on the bill, or it automatically becomes law.
“I think finally everyone in the General Assembly has had enough and we want to get to the bottom of it,” Caulkins said.
The tools are only useful if they’re used, Caulkins said, and officials need to prosecute and claw back the fraudulently released tax dollars.
“The unemployment fund is paid for by an employer and so we have a deficit in our fund that raises the insurance premiums on our employees,” Caulkins said. “This isn’t right.”
He said this is just one part of reflecting on the problems from the pandemic.
“What really happened and why were we unprepared, why did we have to go hire an outside firm and how much did we really pay them,” Caulkins asked.
When Pritzker issued stay-at-home orders in the spring of 2020, the problems with the Illinois Department of Employment Security arose. In April that year, the state contracted with Deloitte Consulting to set up a new system for gig workers and similar unemployment claims for a total of $12.6 million. The Illinois Comptroller’s website shows since then, the total taxpayer cost for all IDES contracts with Deloitte is $134.3 million.
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