DES to add unemployment certification questions

Dec. 13, 2012 @ 07:33 AM

FOREST CITY — Next week, the North Carolina Division of Employment Security (DES) will institute a change in its weekly certification questions.

The weekly certification questions — done by phone or online each week — are answered by those drawing unemployment benefits to determine eligibility.

Larry Parker, spokesman for DES, said that the division is adding questions and streamlining questions to add accountability to those receiving benefits.

"Part of it is to make things a little more clear and adds a little more responsibility to the claimant," Parker said.

According to the DES, the number of questions an unemployment claimant will answer will go from four to 14. Parker said that newer questions include asking a claimant if they understand they can be prosecuted if they answer falsely or withhold information.

Parker said that fraud with unemployment benefits has always been an issue with the division, which is one of the primary reasons the new questions were added.

"There is always going to be fraud and, at the height of the recession when we had more, the opportunity for fraud increased," Parker said. "What we are doing is taking measures to create ways to investigate fraud and prosecute fraud.

"We are taking a very aggressive approach to fraud with regards to unemployment."

He added that the DES is not stopping at adding questions to a certification to combat fraud with unemployment benefits.

Another process the DES is using is cross-checking its list of unemployment benefit filers with a national database of new hires. Employers are required to report any new employees hired and, Parker said, DES cross-matches with that list and, if someone shows up on both lists, the state will send a letter to the claimant and they have seven days to respond before payments are stopped and an investigation is opened.

A new law, which went into effect Dec. 1, states that benefits improperly obtained more than $400 can result in a Class I felony.

The next two weeks will signal other changes for unemployment benefits.

The federal extension for unemployment will end the week of Dec. 29. Parker said that will affect approximately 698 people in Rutherford County.

"There are people that will immediately lose those benefits," Parker said. "It has ended before but, Congress has extended it, however, this is a hard date."

It will leave the standard 26 weeks of unemployment benefits left available.

In Rutherford County, 838 people receive regular unemployment benefits, as of the week that ended Dec. 1.

North Carolina pays out approximately $25.5 million on the federal extension program. The end of the program will result in approximately $201,000 in federal extension benefits being cut in Rutherford County.