Ohio begins sending $300 relief payments as it fights new surge of fraud

The state of Ohio has started issuing new weekly $300 federal pandemic unemployment compensation payments even as it attempts to crack down on a surge in fraudulent claims using data picked up in identity theft.

The weekly Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC) payments go to eligible unemployment claimants following a new system programming update, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services announced Tuesday.

The benefit has been halved, falling from the $600 paid in the FPUC program’s previous iteration.

Kim Henderson, director of the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services (ODJFS), could not immediately say in a Zoom call Wednesday how many are receiving the $300 benefits.

Meanwhile, the state has been fighting a wave of new fraud attempts.

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There were more than 4,700 reports of fraudulent claims as of Wednesday morning, Henderson said. Even Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, Lt. Gov. Jon Husted and First Lady Fran DeWine say they have been victims of fraud, with someone attempting to file benefits claims in their names into the ODFJS system.

If their names have been used in fraudulent claims, citizens are advised to use the “report identity theft” button on the ODJFS web site. (It’s the left side, red button on https://unemploymenthelp.ohio.gov/.)

The overall problem isn’t new, but it has become more acute, Henderson said. “There are people who might intentionally overstate wages or claim more weeks than they’re entitled to, what have you. This isn’t necessarily brand new.”

What the state is seeing now, however, is a “dramatic spike” since the summer attendant largely to the PUA (Federal Pandemic Unemployment Assistance) payments. By July, the department started holding back some payments where it saw evidence of fraud.

Henderson insisted that where identify information is obtained, it is not a “result of a leak or a breach in our system.”

“The information was obtained externally and then used to apply into our system,” Henderson said.

She said her department is working to “hone in” on how much has been paid out in fraudulent claims. “We do know that likely some significant amounts of dollars have been paid out.”

Dealing with the problem has been time-consuming, she added. “It does clog up our resources. It’s regrettable.”

Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kimberly Henderson
Ohio Department of Job and Family Services Director Kimberly Henderson

The problem is a national one. Last summer, the U.S. attorney’s office in Los Angeles announced that a federal grand jury had indicted eight people in a scheme that stole $1.1 million in unemployment benefits through sham corporations, the Los Angeles Times reported.

The federal CARES Act, signed in March 2020, provided FPUC benefits through July 31. It also provided up to 39 weeks of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) and up to 13 weeks of Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC).

The latest federal aid package provided up to an additional 11 weeks of FPUC benefits from December 27, 2020, through March 13, 2021. It also provided an additional up to 11 weeks in PEUC and PUA.

State programmers are still working to make the latter two benefits available, the department said.

All eligible claimants are supposed to receive their benefits retroactive to as early as December 27, 2020.

For more information on federal unemployment programs offered in Ohio, visit https://jfs.ohio.gov/caa/.

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