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Keeping The Unemployed Honest

April 29, 2010, 10:05 PM by Ben Dunsmoor

Keeping The Unemployed Honest
SIOUX FALLS, SD - South Dakota's unemployment rate is around five percent, which is the highest it's been in 25 years. With more people unemployed, the possibility for fraud rises. That's why the state has a program to keep the unemployed honest.

Perry Job is among the 21,000 South Dakotans who are unemployed right now, and he says it's a struggle finding a job.

"It's real competitive. And the openings we have, there's not much.  There's probably one or two openings for each thing. There's not a whole lot open out there," Job said.

That competitive job market is bringing more people to South Dakota Department of Labor offices across the state looking for unemployment checks to get them through the tough times. 

"Just so I can pay my bills. I have to pay rent, and my insurance, my cell phone.  It's tough," Job said.

"In the economic conditions we have right now, we have a lot more people filing for unemployment benefits," Don Kattke with the South Dakota Department of Labor said.

In 2009, the South Dakota Department of Labor says the number of people applying for unemployment checks tripled. The state alone paid out $65 million last year to the unemployed.

"Typically that's about $20 million to $25 million in a normal historical year," Kattke said.

To receive an unemployment check, a person has to apply for jobs every week and be willing to take a job if they are offered one. Because of the huge surge in South Dakotans without jobs, the Department of Labor hired three unemployment investigators in April to make sure the people receiving the checks are meeting those requirements.

"That's simply what they're doing is following up on the work contacts the unemployment applicants report, and see if they verify them and was there any work offered to them and so on. That's what they're doing," Kattke said.

If the investigators find any fraud, they send those cases on to the South Dakota Attorney General's Office for prosecution. 

"We've seen a little bit in South Dakota. That fraud ranges from what I call the double-dippers, those individuals who are receiving the unemployment insurance, receive a position, yet don't tell anybody and receive those funds," South Dakota Attorney General Marty Jackley said.

Jackley says the problem is growing nationwide.

"If there's fraud, it either will take away from those individuals that need it or it will result in increased payroll taxes," Jackley said.

"It is very much protecting taxpayers and that's the sort of reaction we have from employers. I think that they are pleased that this is action is actually being taken to protect the integrity of the unemployment insurance system, because this is totally financed by employer payments into the system. Those payments are going up as a consequence of the unemployment being so high," Kattke said.

And Job says he's glad the state is watching out for fraud. 

"That way people aren't just sitting around and collecting unemployment. They're actually out there looking for a job. They're trying to get a job instead of sitting around collecting it," Job said.

Checking up on the unemployed who are collecting those checks.

Department of Labor officials say the unemployment investigators are just temporary because of the high amount of claims they've had during the past year. When unemployment claims go down, their regular staff can handle the work.

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