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OLYMPIA - The Employment Security Department (ESD) Commissioner, Suzi LeVine, shared this statement following the release of the first state audit findings by the Washington State Auditor’s Office:

“We so appreciate the feedback this audit provides and are proud that all of their recommendations are actions we’ve already taken. Additionally, the areas they’ve identified as causes have already been disclosed, identified and – where it is in the state’s power to do so – acted upon. We especially welcome the recognition of our critical work on funds recovery, which currently stands at $357 million and rising.

“The audit acknowledges the national leadership role ESD has played both in preventing further unemployment fraud loss in Washington and in assisting the federal government and other states in preventing the loss of billions of dollars in benefits to these criminals.

“Washington was among the first states to be impacted by the nationwide unemployment fraud attack, but we were not the last.

“This audit finding also recognizes the incredible pressure and conditions that resulted in the criminal attack against our unemployment insurance program in the spring of 2020. Some of these conditions were created by the federal law or guidance. For instance, the waiving of the waiting week was encouraged and paid for by the federal CARES Act. While it affected some of the fraud, waiving it enabled claimants to receive funds more quickly at a time they desperately needed relief due to mandatory shutdowns.

“We remain vigilant against fraud and are recognized as an innovator and leader in our country as we continue to combat the attempted theft of these public monies. In the ongoing efforts to prevent and stop fraud, and recover stolen funds, our department has and continues to work with: The United States Department of Labor (USDOL), the Office of Inspector General in USDOL and the Social Security Administration, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Washington State Attorney General’s Office, the National Association of State Workforce Agencies, and banks and financial institutions in Washington and across the country.

“Since the discovery of the surge in fraudulent claims in May 2020, we have instituted many additional controls and countermeasures to prevent and stop fraud, including:

  • Standing up a 100-person customer service in-take team to handle reports of fraud.
  • Establishing a secure portal for receiving verification information from victims and businesses to more quickly identify fraudulent claims, suspend payments and identify payments to recover.
  • Implementing a two-day hold on payments to help investigate fraudulent claims prior to payment, in consultation with McKinsey & Company.
  • Enacting emergency rule WAC 192-140-096, to allow suspension of payments suspected to be fraudulent until an investigation can be completed.
  • Reallocating resources and increasing staffing for fraud investigations. This includes utilizing what we call surging capacity, to activate hundreds of staff across the agency and the Washington National Guard.
  • Repurposing staff for data analytics to detect trends in fraud and improve the discovery process.

“As previously stated, we welcome these audits as an opportunity to make improvements in practices and systems for the future.”