U.S. Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, is calling on federal officials to investigate “mounting reports of unemployment insurance fraud occurring throughout the country” during the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a letter sent on Wednesday to Larry Turner, deputy inspector of the U.S. Department of Labor, Curtis said that last year “multiple state unemployment programs reportedly froze thousands of accounts with open unemployment claims after detecting fraudulent activity.”

“In one case, investigators discovered individuals illegally filed claims on behalf of thousands of inmates, amassing over $2 billion in fraudulent benefits,” the congressman wrote. “Another case found claims submitted from computers overseas and, again, used stolen identities.”

“It is also our understanding that these criminals primarily targeted the temporary unemployment programs established (to) help the millions of Americans who lost their jobs as a result of (the) pandemic,” Curtis continued. “This only underscores the need to swiftly address these loopholes being exploited by criminals.”

Seven other members of Congress joined Curtis in sending the letter: Reps. Ralph Norman, R-South Carolina; Scott Perry, R-Pennsylvania; Michael Cloud, R-Texas; Jim Baird, R-Indiana; John Moolenaar, R-Michigan; Scott DesJarlais, R-Tennessee; and Doug LaMalfa, R-California.

The congressmen requested that the labor department “investigate these claims of fraud, waste, and abuse,” noting that “if found true, your recommendations of how to safeguard against further attempts to undermine our employment system could save millions, if not billions, of taxpayer dollars.”

“We also stand ready to offer additional assistance to our state partners as they manage an above average caseload of unemployment claims,” they wrote. “Above all, ensuring targeted relief goes to those who are most in need and being good stewards (of) Americans’ hard-earned taxpayer dollars is critical as we continue our pandemic response.”

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance Program, which was established as part of the CARES Act package that federal lawmakers passed in March 2020, allows individuals who are normally not eligible to receive unemployment benefits “to be be paid weekly benefits as a result of business disruptions caused by the pandemic,” according to a press release from Curtis’ office.

Initial requirements for the program only asked applicants to self-certify their identity, which “led to over $36 billion in fraud” and is estimated to account for almost 40% of claims filed in some states.

In a written statement, Curtis said that “unfortunately there are still hundreds and thousands of Americans out of work because of this horrific virus — which makes these reports of fraud especially concerning.”

“Taken with the billions of taxpayer dollars we authorized to stand up these programs, and at the expense of future generations, this is a serious and potentially devastating problem,” the Utah congressman said.

Curtis, who is a member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, led his colleagues in sending the letter.

Connor Richards covers government, the environment and south Utah County for the Daily Herald. He can be reached at crichards@heraldextra.com and 801-344-2599.

See what people are talking about at The Community Table!