Anyone applying for unemployment benefits in North Carolina now faces new requirements. They include providing a valid government issued photo ID at a face-to-face meeting. Those who don’t, risk losing their benefits.
Unemployment benefits are paid with both federal and state money. So Dale Folwell took note when he received a letter from the U.S. Department of Labor three months ago. A letter which said an estimated 18.7 percent of all of North Carolina's unemployment benefits were in fact overpayments. "Some of which would obviously be fraud," says Folwell, who is the Assistant Secretary of the North Carolina Division of Employment Security.
Hundreds of millions of dollars worth of unemployment checks are paid locally each year. And allegations of fraud aren’t new. But Folwell could only provide anecdotal evidence of such fraud – and not hard numbers. "We actually have a text message between two roommates apologizing to each other for stealing the others social security numbers and filing unemployment."
Still the Division of Employment Security decided to enact new provisions to try to stop fraud. The unemployed will now need to go, in person, to a DES office to prove they are who they say they are, and that they’re actively looking for work. They’ll meet with workforce specialists who, according to Folwell, will be able to help in the job search. "They use the national new hire database. They use the labor force information from their local communities. They have expertise in helping people develop their resumes and apply for jobs."
Those services were already available.
Now, these meetings are mandatory. As is the requirement to provide government issued photo ID. Folwell doesn’t think this provision will be as controversial as similar measures in North Carolina’s voting law because such ID is required for employment under federal law. "So if a photo ID is a condition for employment, we feel it should be a condition of your unemployment."
Folwell and the D.E.S. have been under scrutiny lately. The D.E.S. is facing a 12,000 case backlog of those seeking benefits. Folwell says these latest moves will not affect that number since the new requirements take affect after people receive their first unemployment check.