Labor Dept. touts crackdown on unemployment insurance fraud

TRENTON – The state Labor Department Wednesday highlighted the growing economy, as evidenced by more jobs being created, and assured the state Chamber of Commerce at a breakfast meeting that it is cracking down on unemployment insurance fraud.

Aaron Fichtner, assistant commissioner at the New Jersey Department of Labor and Workforce Development, told a group of New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce members Wednesday morning that his department is diligently investigating unemployment insurance fraud and overpayment that amounted to $60 million in losses last year. 

“We are rooting out as much fraud and mistaken payments as we possibly can,” Fichtner said at a New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce-sponsored roundtable breakfast meeting. “And the cooperation of the business community is important.”

Fichtner said the Labor Department has hired a former FBI agent to assist in the investigations. Some cases are “fairly sophisticated,” including one involving 100 claimants and $2.4 million that is now being handled by the state Division of Law and Public Safety, according to Fichtner.

He added that some cases involved individuals who continued to receive unemployment benefits even after they rejoined the workforce.

“We are upgrading our technology to root out (that problem),” he said.

On employment, Fichtner said the state’s outlook is improving, as the unemployment rate dropped from 9.8 to 9.2 percent in the past year. The state added 17,000 jobs between February 2010 and February 2011, and companies like Bayer and Honeywell recently decided to expand their operations in New Jersey.

“We are focused on economic development,” he said. “We want to make New Jersey a magnet for top-notch, cutting edge companies.”

The Labor Department in 2010 invested $12 million in customized training grants for employees at 400 companies, with employers contributing $17.5 million, Fichtner said. And it invested another $1 million in literacy training grants to improve basic and computer skills of workers.

The department also is working on ways to better finance the Unemployment Insurance Fund.

“We look forward to working closely with the department on reforming the Unemployment Insurance Fund with the goal of restoring it to financial stability,” said Michael Egenton, senior vice president of the New Jersey State Chamber of Commerce. “We can’t continue to overburden employers with an ever-increasing payroll tax. Business owners need some predictability when budgeting.”

  Labor Dept. touts crackdown on unemployment insurance fraud