Those caught stealing money from the state’s Unemployment Insurance program could face prison time, under a bill making its way through the state Capitol.
The legislation from Republican lawmakers would allow those who make false claims to obtain UI benefits to be charged with a felony. Currently, most individuals convicted of the offense face just fines and up to 90 days in jail.
State Sen. Chris Kapenga (R-Delafield), a sponsor of the measure, told a legislative committee Thursday that he’s pursuing the bill because “if we put more of a deterrent in place for somebody breaking the law, they are less likely to do it. When the potential benefit from scamming the system outweighs the deterrent, there’s an incentive for criminals to break the law.”
Critics worry it goes too far though. State Representative Andy Jorgenson (D-Milton) said it treats UI fraud the same as some very serious criminal offenses, such as child pornography and false imprisonment. “We both agree that fraudulently obtaining benefits from the state is wrong and they should be held accountable,” he said “but I think it’s important to compare the felony categories laid out in the bill with current statute.”
Kapenga said the bill just put UI fraud on par with existing theft statutes. “This is substantial fraud and it has to meet a certain threshold…where it is so clear that these people stole the money,” he said.
The bill is currently awaiting a vote before a state Assembly committee.