A bill that would increase the criminal penalties for claimants who fraudulently obtain unemployment benefits has cleared the Wisconsin Senate and is on its way to Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.
State law already penalizes people who conceal material facts related either to their ability to obtain jobless benefits or to the wages they had earned while working. Those who are found to have committed a violation known as concealment can be forced to pay back the money they received from the state plus a penalty equal to 40 percent of that amount.
Aside from those civil penalties, people can also face criminal charges for making a false statement or representation in order to obtain unemployment benefits. They can be hit with penalties ranging from $100 to $500 and as many as 90 days in prison.
Assembly Bill 710 would raise those criminal penalties, making them go up in accordance with the amount of ill-gotten benefits someone had received. If the benefits fraudulently obtained totaled $2,500 or less, a claimant would face a maximum of $10,000 in fines and nine months in prison.
Someone who had obtained between $2,500 and $10,000 worth of benefits would be charged with a felony and be faced with three and a half years in prison and a maximum of $10,000 in fines.
Claimants who had fraudulently obtained more than $10,000 worth of jobless benefits would also be charged with a felony and would be faced with as much as $25,000 in fines and 10 years in prison.
The bill would allow a series of violations to be prosecuted as a single crime.
The Senate on Tuesday night passed AB 710 on an 18-14 vote after Democrats unsuccessfully attempted to amend it. The Assembly passed the bill on Feb. 15.
AB 710’s next stop is Gov. Scott Walker’s desk.
Last session, the author of AB 710, state Rep. Samantha Kerkman, a Republican from Salem, put forward a similar bill, AB 533. It was passed out of the full Assembly but never made it to the Senate.
“I appreciate the Senate support of AB 710,” said Kerkman in a statement. “Together we are creating a strong deterrent to benefit fraud and protecting the Unemployment Insurance fund so that the program can remain a safety net for those who are out of work.”Follow @erikastrebel