Around 27,000 Pandemic Unemployment Assistance claims and approximately 10,000 unemployment insurance claims in the state of Arkansas are currently on hold due to fraud concerns, according to the state.
Gov. Asa Hutchinson said any fraudulent claims filed to the state will be turned over law enforcement and the FBI.
"Anyone can receive in the mail that they’ve been approved for an unemployment claim or a pandemic unemployment assistance claim. And if you’ve been approved for one of those claims and you scratch your head and say 'Well I never applied for one,' that’s a pretty good indication that someone is trying to use your identity for fraudulent purposes," Hutchinson said.
Hutchinson himself received a fraudulent letter, as did other cabinet secretaries, according to Secretary of Commerce Mike Preston.
Preston says the state does not know the exact number of fraudulent claims for Pandemic Unemployment Assistance in the state, but they are flagging more claims than they normally would.
"We’re trying to get through that backlog so that we can make the payments to those who are in need of that payment and rightfully deserve that payment," Preston said.
According to Preston, in terms of Pandemic Unemployment Assistance payments, the state has paid around $500 million and over $1 billion in Pandemic Unemployment Compensation.
"We’ve seen a lot of money move throughout our economy. We’re hopeful that most of those are legitimate claims and a lot of them probably are. Can I say that there’s no fraud in there? I’m sure there’s some. We just don’t know at this point what that looks like," Preston said.
The state continues to maintain a high hospitalization rate as the total number of COVID-19 cases in the state passes 45,000.
According to numbers from the Arkansas Department of Health, the state added 784 new cases, bringing the total to 45,381.
Hospitalizations increased by 13, for a total of 526, the highest ever recorded number of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the state. The number of patients on a ventilator decrease by seven. The total is now 101. The number of deaths increased by 15 for a total of 490.
Speaking during the daily briefing on the pandemic, Acting Health Secretary Dr. José Romero spoke on the importance of leaving reliable contact information if being tested for COVID-19.
"One of the biggest problems we have is not having adequate contact information for these individuals. So I want to stress that it’s very important that you give that telephone number to us. We understand that there is concern about giving that information out to be scammed, but we are only using it for ourselves and for the CDC," Romero said.
Despite the continued increases in hospitalizations and deaths due to COVID-19, Arkansas is moving forward with its plan to open school the week of August 24. When asked about that decision, Hutchinson said the argument for not opening schools could be applied to any place of activity.
"You could make the argument that well, somebody shouldn’t go work in the factory or they shouldn’t work in a meat-processing plant because they could get COVID, they could take it back home. Likewise you could get it at home and take it back into the factory. These are risks of anytime you have movement and you have movement in school so it’s mitigating against those risks, and that’s what we’re doing," Hutchinson said.
The state’s plan to have school in the fall is continuing despite a letter from the Arkansas Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics that did not recommend a state-wide reopening, and instead endorsed a more regional approach.