Fraudsters stole more than half the money paid out by the state from a special pandemic unemployment fund, pilfering nearly $2 billion in federal money that was supposed to help out-of-work Illinoisans, according to a state audit released Thursday.
The audit offers the first estimate for Illinois’ share of the mammoth fraud that swept the country during the pandemic as states were hit with a deluge of unemployment claims. The audit covers much of the period the program was in use, from July 2020 through June 2021.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security acknowledged in November 2020 that more than 212,000 fraudulent unemployment claims had been filed, but has never released a dollar estimate on the theft despite requests from reporters and lawmakers.
The figures in the state auditor general’s report fueled Republicans’ complaints that Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker, who’s up for reelection, mismanaged the pandemic-strained unemployment system.
Auditors called the level of fraud “unprecedented,” with “fraudsters using highly sophisticated techniques to take advantage” of the pandemic’s unique conditions.