Help the people who need it the most — now

It was to be expected that when Congress approved about $3 trillion in emergency aid to Americans hurt financially by the coronavirus epidemic, the criminal element would seize the opportunity for ill-gotten gains.

Both as individuals and criminal organizations, they have been doing just that on a massive scale. It is doubtful we will ever know how much in unemployment compensation has been paid out wrongly.

Millions of people need the benefits badly. Though the economy is recovering slowly from business slowdowns linked to COVID-19, it still has a long way to go.

Officials in some states have chosen now to crack down hard on those claiming unemployment compensation fraudulently, The Associated Press reports.

Clearly, there is much to do. In Pennsylvania, as many as 10,000 prison inmates attempted to collect benefits. A number of states already have estimated fraudulent claims — many of them already paid — in the thousands.

Unfortunately, some states appear to be punishing the deserving as they attempt to crack down on fraud. California, for one, stopped processing new claims for two weeks as part of its campaign against fraud.

Obviously, no criminal claimants will get money if no one does. But states doing that are hurting people who need help badly — people for whom even a couple of weeks of delay could be devastating — is wrong. Plainly and simply, it is wrong.

If delaying unemployment benefits to all claimants in order to catch those engaged in fraud is even being contemplated in our state, the idea ought to be dropped. Period.


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