Unemployment checks suspended before fraud proven - WAOW - Newsline 9, Wausau News, Weather, Sports

Unemployment checks suspended before fraud proven

MADISON (WKOW) -- Former workers of a Middleton-based engineering firm told 27 News their weekly unemployment compensation checks were abruptly halted earlier this month after a anonymous tipster alleged fraud.

The Department of Workforce Development's denial of benefits even before fraud is proven is a significantly more punitive departure from practices in other states surveyed by 27 News.

The handful of workers told 27 News the anonymous allegation they had resumed work but were still collecting unemployment checks was false. 

"I have not worked anywhere,"   laid off worker Frank Homolka of Oak Creek told 27 News.

The workers said they were laid-off from SRI (Structural Research Inc.) in May due to the company's tighter finances.   SRI consults on the integrity of commercial buildings.

The workers told 27 News they have been prospecting for work, but have not landed it, and had been receiving weekly benefit checks until department of workforce officials informed them payments were being withheld "pending eligibility questions."

Former worker Alan Olson of West Bend told 27 News he maintains a license as a structural engineer in Illinois and is listed as an employee with a Wisconsin firm, but said he's disclosed his status to DWD and receives no pay or benefits from that company.

"You're innocent until proven guilty,"   Homolka, a former architectural designer, told 27 News.   "I'm accused of something I didn't do.   I feel like I'm already in prison because my family may lose everything."

Homolka said he filed for bankruptcy and his family depended on his weekly unemployment compensation benefit check to cover loans, pay utilities and carry health insurance.

The Department of Workforce Development's web site encourages anonymous fraud tips, but also only references the loss of past benefits if fraud is proven, not benefit interruption during an investigation.

In a statement, DWD agency liaison Richard Jones wrote if a challenge to someone's eligibility for benefits fails, any withheld funds are released to the individual.  

"This safeguards benefits, ensuring that unemployment compensation is paid only to those who are eligible."

Jones did not address the unique hardship eligible recipients may suffer during benefits suspension, nor the length of time a suspension may last without the opportunity for an eligible recipient to dispute accusations.

Utah Department of Unemployment services spokesperson Curt Stewart said in Utah, unemployment insurance compensation benefit recipients are given between two and seven days to respond to accusations of fraud, before Utah officials take any action on their benefit checks.

Iowa Workforce Development manager of investigations and recovery Dave Eklund told 27 News an Iowa court decision requires Iowa to provide as many as ten days for an accused recipient to respond, before any suspension of benefits.

"We ask for proof to dispute (accusations),"   Eklund said. 

"(The time frame) Gives everyone a fair opportunity, if they've been falsely accused."

Jones said confidentiality rules prevented comment on the challenge to the eligibility of the former SRI workers.


Powered by Frankly