In his role as lieutenant governor, Todd Lamb visits all 77 Oklahoma counties each year, conducting numerous town halls and meeting with local business leaders. In the past, the workers’ compensation system was a top priority for those entrepreneurs. Now that lawmakers have overhauled the system, another issue is rising in importance: unemployment insurance abuse.
“That’s an issue, maybe not as large-scale as workers’ comp, but it’s darn close as far as fraud in the system and a very punitive policy as it relates to employers,” Lamb told The Oklahoman’s editorial board in a recent meeting.
In many communities, Lamb said, employers have observed laid-off workers who choose to stay on unemployment “as long as they can, even when a job’s been offered.” Those individuals reportedly aren’t pursuing work or are even falsifying documentation of job-search activity. Such fraud is illegal under state law, but Lamb says “there’s not enough teeth” in those statutes to deter the activity.
The same meetings that highlighted this issue may have also pointed to a solution. One town hall attendee noted that New Mexico law has been very successful in combatting fraud. In New Mexico, if a business offers to rehire an employee at the same basic pay and the worker declines the opportunity, that worker then becomes ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Lamb notes that employers would still be required to document an offer and prove good-faith efforts were undertaken. He argues such reforms are necessary not only to aid businesses, but also to help those who truly need unemployment benefits.
“If there’s fraud in the system, those that really need that safety net or those benefits for a transitionary period, they’re not receiving what they should,” Lamb said.
Critics may claim that virtually no one would choose to remain unemployed, but the real-world experiences of business owners suggest otherwise. Lawmakers should take this issue seriously.