Montana has paid out more than $10 million in potentially fraudulent unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic, but has stopped more than $220 million in fraudulent payments since April 28, the Department of Labor and Industry said Thursday.
The agency began implementing additional identity verification measures in response to a national unemployment fraud scheme that is using stolen personal information to apply for benefits. Some applicants may be asked to provide more information, which can delay payments, said Brenda Nordlund, acting Labor Commissioner.
“Through additional steps taken to prevent fraud, we've been able to stop this widespread scheme to take advantage of the pandemic,” Nordlund said. “While we have successfully prevented a large amount of fraud up to this point, we are continuing our efforts to stop fraud from occurring while ensuring all eligible Montanans receive the benefits they deserve.”
Washington state has reported making between $550 million and $650 million in fraudulent payments, and has recovered $333 million.
Labor Department officials in Montana are working with law enforcement, the U.S. Office of the Inspector General and banking institutions to coordinate recovery of the fraudulent payments, Nordlund said.
New applications for unemployment benefits in the state declined last week, but the number of new applications was more than twice as high as the same week a year ago, the agency said.
The number of new applications for job assistance last week fell to 2,892, according to the U.S. Employment and Training Administration.
That’s a decrease of 5% from the number of applications submitted the previous week, but an increase of over 250% compared to the same week last year.
As of May 30, nearly 45,000 residents were receiving unemployment benefits. That represents 9.9% of all eligible employees in the state.
The state has processed 111,644 claims for unemployment since March 14, representing 24.5% of the workforce that is eligible for the unemployment insurance program.
The state made more than 47,000 unemployment insurance payments totaling around $50 million last week.
On Thursday, the state reported three new cases of COVID-19 from 1,161 tests. It has reported 28 cases over the past seven days. There have been 563 cases statewide. Seven people were hospitalized as of Thursday, and 18 have died.
Two inmates at the Montana Women's Prison in Billings are presumed to have COVID-19, but their test results are still being confirmed, Department of Corrections spokesperson Carolynn Bright said Thursday.
The department tested all 194 inmates and 48 staff members after receiving the two presumptive positive tests, she said. Those tests are also pending.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death. The vast majority of people recover.