Luft calls for hearings on multi-billion dollar mismanagement at IDES

PEKIN – As a new audit shows that nearly $2 billion in federal funds were paid out for fraudulent pandemic unemployment claims by the Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES), State Representative Mark Luft (R-Pekin) is calling for immediate hearings into the operations at the troubled agency.

“When an agency, any agency, loses nearly $2 billion to fraud, the General Assembly has to step in and get to the root of what happened,” said Luft. “I’m calling for immediate hearings into the gross mismanagement of these funds at IDES.”

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) program was created to help people not usually covered by unemployment insurance, like gig workers and those who are self-employed, but according to a new audit, more than half of the money IDES paid out from a special pandemic unemployment fund went to the pockets of fraudsters instead of unemployed Illinoisans desperately in need of relief. The audit found that out of a total of $3.6 billion in Pandemic Unemployment Assistance funds paid out between July 2020 and June 2021, nearly $1.9 billion was tied to fraud.

IDES has previously been criticized for failing to make use of free resources to fight fraud that were made available before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, and for being slow to develop processes to prevent fraud. 

According to the Chicago Tribune, this audit may not show the full scope of pandemic-related fraud in Illinois. Under another federally funded program that boosted claim checks the state paid out an additional $3.8 billion. The audit also doesn’t address the thousands of Illinoisans whose names and accounts were improperly used to hijack legitimate claims.

“It’s clear that this audit is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to putting a dollar amount on the mismanagement at IDES,” said Luft. “We need hearings to see the full scope of the problem, which could easily total billions more.”