July 9, 2010 — -- While many Americans are feeling the pain of expired unemployment benefits, some have gotten a good chunk more than they were legally eligible for.
Preliminary estimates released by the U.S. Department of Labor find that, in 2009, states made more than $7.1 billion in overpayments in unemployment insurance, up from $4.2 billion the year before. The total amount of unemployment benefits paid in 2009 was $76.8 billion, compared to $41.6 billion in 2008.
Fraud accounted for $1.55 billion in estimated overpayments last year, while errors by state agencies were blamed for $2.27 billion, according to the Labor Department. The department's final report will be released next month.
Some of the overpayments likely can be traced back to the overwhelming workloads facing state employment agencies during the recession, said George Wentworth, a policy analyst for the National Employment Law Project.
"You've got a system that's been under siege like the unemployment insurance system has been for the last two years," Wentworth said. "You've got a lot of new staff coming into the system, there's been a lot of federal extensions [to unemployment insurance benefits] that have had to be programmed in and so on. There's just been a lot of change that states have had to handle. ... I just think the volume and the new staff have made the systems more susceptible to error."
The newly-unemployed, meanwhile, have found themselves frustrated when trying to reach out to state officials for help in properly filling out their claims.
"In 2009, it was a fairly regularly event to see different states' call centers basically reaching maximum capacity where people would not be able to get through for hours or days at a time," Wentworth said.