Auditors find $2.9 million in improper Louisiana unemployment payments

Staff Report
Shown in this file photo is a Louisiana Workforce Commission mobile workforce center.

According to an audit, the Louisiana Workforce Commission improperly paid some $2.9 million in unemployment claims during the COVID-19 pandemic from March 2020 to the end of July this year.

Legislative Auditor Mike Waguespack, CPA, submitted the findings of the audit Nov. 10 to Senate President Patrick Page Cortez and Speaker of the House Clay Schexnayder.

"Overall, we found that LWC made approximately $2.9 million in payments that potentially violated unemployment benefit program rules outlined in federal and/or state law, including payments to claimants enrolled in multiple programs at the same time, payments higher than the maximum benefit amount, and duplicate payments," Waguespack wrote in the report.

According to LWC, when improper payments or overpayments are found, a case is established for the claimant, and attempts are made to recover the funds. The recovery can be through direct payments, withholding of future unemployment benefits, or collection from the claimant's federal and state income tax refunds.

Enrolling in multiple state and federal unemployment programs at the same time is not allowed by federal law, Waguespack wrote. Such improper payments resulted in $898,400 in payments.

Also, LWC made payments for weeks that exceeded the maximum benefit amount set in state and federal law. That resulted in $1,976,041 in potentially improper payments for the period of Feb. 2020 through April of this year.

Additionally, LWC made duplicate payments to claimants for the same benefit week, which resulted in $33,536 in potentially improper payments.

Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Cates

As reported by the Associated Press, Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Cates responded by saying "mistakes are inevitable" with new temporary programs. The pandemic expanded eligibility and payment amounts.

Louisiana paid $9.8 billion in state and federal unemployment aid to more than 794,000 people from the end of March 2020 through July this year, according to the report.

The agency will be working to recoup improperly paid funds from the recipients.