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State targeting jobless-aid fraud

Law to require in-person review to gain benefits

– Unemployed Indiana residents risk losing their jobless benefits if they fail to show up for an in-person meeting required under a new rule that takes effect Oct. 1 and is aimed in part at reducing unemployment fraud.

The state’s Department of Workforce Development will begin mailing notices in mid-October to unemployed Indiana residents who’ve received at least four weeks’ worth of jobless benefits, telling them they must schedule an in-person meeting at a local WorkOne office or face the loss of their unemployment payments.

Currently, about 40,000 Indiana residents are drawing state unemployment benefits, while an additional 20,000 are drawing federal jobless benefits.

Department spokesman Joe Frank said Tuesday the provision is part of a jobs bill Gov. Mike Pence signed into law in April, and is partly intended to cut unemployment fraud.

“The whole point of this is to get folks re-employed as quickly as possible, it’s not to try to shut off their benefits, not to try to be mean to people,” Frank said.

The new provision requires one in-person meeting at which recipients will have to show a photo ID and undergo a review of their work-search efforts. They’ll also be briefed on WorkOne services that can help them find jobs, including workshops on resume-writing and job interviews.

The new provision is similar to a federal requirement that was part of Congress’ reauthorization last year of federal unemployment benefits, Frank said, requiring an in-person review after 26 weeks of federal benefits.

If an Indiana resident schedules an in-person meeting but misses it, the person must contact the state agency, explain the reason for the absence and schedule a new meeting. Repeatedly missing such meetings will cost them their benefits, he said.

And, he said, “If they never show, they’ll never get back on the benefits.”

Rep. Charles Moseley, D-Portage, said Tuesday he’s concerned that WorkOne centers might not apply the new provision evenly across the state, based on reports he’d heard of major inconsistencies at those offices.

“If it’s the law of the land, it should be applied equitably and fairly to everyone who comes and applies for unemployment, no matter where they live in the state,” said Mosley, who voted against the legislation.

Frank said the agency expects a seamless transition in implementing the new provision based on its experience with the federal requirement.

Alex Adams, a 52-year-old Indianapolis resident, lost his job of 32 years when a snack food factory closed in January. He received a six-month severance package but that ran out in July and he’s been working odd jobs and living off his savings since then.

Adams, who plans to apply for unemployment Wednesday, said the state’s new policy makes sense.

“They want people to make sure that people are actually looking for jobs, instead of just sitting back collecting unemployment,” he said.

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