TOPEKA The Kansas Department of Labor said Monday that it is cracking down on unemployment insurance fraud, something that it says has been a major problem in Kansas.
"The KDOL Employment Security Trust Fund was designed to benefit workers who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own," Labor Secretary Lana Gordon said in a news release. "By aggressively targeting fraud and actively recovering overpayment benefits, we're protecting taxpayers and hardworking Kansans."
Since 2012, the agency said, it has investigated nearly 21,000 cases of potential unemployment insurance fraud and has recovered more than $23 million for the trust fund.
Kansas imposes harsh penalties for unemployment insurance fraud. Depending on the amount of money involved, the crime can be prosecuted as a felony, and offenders can be prosecuted for making false statements or withholding material information in order to claim benefits.
In addition to receiving a felony record, people convicted of the crime must pay back all overpayments. They can also face stiff penalties, and they can be barred from claiming unemployment benefits for five years.
During a telephone interview, Gordon was asked why the agency was emphasizing unemployment insurance fraud at a time when the state's unemployment rate is a mere 3.7 percent.
Gordon said the state receives a grant from the U.S. Department of Labor to generate public awareness of unemployment fraud.
"It's something that we like to look at ongoing to prevent," Gordon said. "As we work on this, we have become better at identifying fraud before it hits our system, but I think it's always important to the integrity of the system and to protect the dollars in the trust fund so they go to people who are lawfully entitled to it rather than others who are trying to defraud the system."
Gordon said examples of unemployment insurance fraud include applying for benefits while still earning compensation somewhere, and filing for benefits under somebody else's Social Security number.
She said the agency does not prosecute people for making unintentional, technical errors on their applications, but instead focuses on people who knowingly and willfully try to defraud the system.