CRANSTON, R.I. —
Unemployment insurance is Rhode Island’s safety net for those who’ve lost their jobs, especially in a tough economy.
But federal numbers show millions of dollars in unemployment checks are going to people who shouldn’t be collecting. The U.S. Department of Labor said it added up to about $62 million over the past three years alone.
“It’s a lot of money. It’s a lot of money,” said Ray Filippone of the Rhode Island Department of Labor and Training.
Filippone is in charge of recouping that money for the state.
Compared with other states, Rhode Island actually has one of the lower rates of overpayment at 5.6 percent last year, versus a rate of more than 10 percent nationwide. But more than half of the state’s overpayments are due to fraud, primarily people under-reporting how much they’ve worked or continuing to collect after they return to work.
“It’s a big concern. It’s a concern to the whole department. But I think the steps that we’re taking shows that we’re aggressive in,” Filippone said.
“I’ve been unemployed since May of 2010,” said Kathy Giroux, of Smithfield. “I’m applying for jobs. I want to work. But there’s no jobs out there.”
For Rhode Islanders who are still looking for work, like Giroux, it’s tough to hear that others are working, yet still collecting unemployment.
“I have no money coming in whatsoever. It’s making it hard to make ends meet,” Giroux said. “I mean, it’s not fair. There’s not that many jobs to go around to begin with. I don’t know how they’re getting away with it.”
The DLT has collected about $10 million of the missing money so far. Rhode Island also recently received more than $1 million in federal funds to upgrade its computer system to track down more of the overpayments.
“It’s concerning. That’s why we went for funding last year to help us in the recovery and detection for overpayment,” Filippone said.
Rhode Island and more than 30 other states are currently borrowing from the federal government to cover their state unemployment payments.
If more of the money is recovered, that means the state can repay the federal loan faster.