Rep. Estes Delivers Remarks on Unemployment Fraud Legislation
Washington, May 16, 2023 | Roman Rodriguez (316-262-8992)
WASHINGTON – Last week Rep. Ron Estes (R-Kansas) spoke in support of the Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act.
"No member of Congress should be comfortable telling their constituents that they don’t care about wasting nearly $400 billion of taxpayer money," said Rep. Estes. "While this massive fraud was occurring, hardworking, unemployed Kansans were competing with fraudsters to receive the unemployment benefits they deserved and desperately needed."
The bill passed the House 230 to 200 later in the day.
Watch video of Rep. Estes' floor remarks
Full Remarks as Prepared:
Thank you, Mr. Speaker. I rise today in support of the Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act.
Right now, our federal government is borrowing one out of every five dollars we spend, or about $45,000 each second. This fact alone should outrage every American.
Yet we face another outrageous problem here in the swamp – waste, fraud and abuse. Not only are we borrowing at historic rates, but we’re borrowing to cover the costs of the rampant fraud that exists, frequently unchecked, in our system.
This was magnified during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. While there were good reasons to expand unemployment benefits when many Americans were displaced from work at no fault of their own, we are already three years removed from the passage of the CARES Act, and the pandemic emergency declaration is over – not because the Biden Administration followed the science and voluntarily gave up their emergency powers, but because House Republicans and the Senate came together to force the Biden administration to end the pandemic emergency declaration.
One troubling data point that’s emerged is the unemployment claims as a percentage of unemployed workers. This was 37% in February 2020, right before the pandemic came to our shores. Yet by August of that same year, it had climbed to 216%. The data is clear – we were paying massive amounts of unemployment to people who were not unemployed. It’s estimated that of the $873 billion in total pandemic UI benefits disbursed, about $357 billion went to fraudulent claims.
No member of Congress should be comfortable telling their constituents that they don’t care about wasting nearly $400 billion of taxpayer money.
In my home state, a forensic audit found that the state of Kansas paid up to $466 million in unemployment fraud.
While this massive fraud was occurring, hardworking, unemployed Kansans were competing with fraudsters to receive the unemployment benefits they deserved and desperately needed. In my office in Wichita, we received countless calls from Kansans who were trying to reach the ineffectual Kansas Department of Labor.
One constituent waited more than half a year after her claim mysteriously ended up in the fraud department. Others reached out to let me know they had been victims of fraud, some receiving a 1099 claiming they owed taxes on the benefits someone else received.
These cases point to a real problem in Kansas and across the country – taxpayers lost out to fraudsters who used the pandemic, vast sums of federal funds and weak state leadership to game the system.
Thankfully, there’s a solution that protects the taxpayers and reins in the fraud we’ve seen in unemployment insurance. The Protecting Taxpayers and Victims of Unemployment Fraud Act won’t make everyone whole, but it ensures that some of the hundreds of billions of dollars are recouped, and it lets states keep 25% of those funds so that they can improve their own UI systems.
To be clear – unemployment is a critical lifeline that helps Americans during a challenging time. When bad actors abuse this program, it hurts those who actually need it by taking away monetary and human resources. This bill is the right and fair approach to ensure unemployed Americans have full access to the assistance they need and, when done correctly, encourages those individuals to get back into the workforce.
Tackling waste, fraud and abuse in unemployment insurance shouldn’t be a partisan issue. It rights a wrong and is just common sense.
Mr. Speaker, I encourage my colleagues to join me in this common sense legislation that puts taxpayers first, and I yield back the balance of my time.