ACROSS MISSISSIPPI — Less than two months into an unemployment insurance crackdown going back 80 years, the Mississippi Department of Employment Security has recovered $12.6 million in benefits collected by people who also were earning paychecks.
More than 29,000 state residents owe a total of $34 million, department spokesman Les Range told The Clarion Ledger.
The most common offenders are those who return to work without telling the state. The agency is working to teach recipients that the sooner they report new jobs, the better.
The state won’t get back the full $34 million. Some of those checks were collected in the 1930s and ’40s, and the people who got them may be dead, executive director Mark Henry said. Others may still be alive, but no longer earning enough to file tax returns.
“But I think it’s something that all Mississippians can be proud of — that in less than two months, we’ve recovered more than a third of what’s owed,” he said.
The U.S. Department of Labor developed the Treasury Offset Program, or TOP, which lets states take uncooperative offenders’ money out of their federal tax refunds. Mississippi was in the second wave of states to join, on Jan. 30.
A similar program to take money from state tax refunds has raised $13.3 million since it started in 2006.
The money goes into the federal Unemployment Benefits Trust Fund, which provides assistance to citizens who are out of work.
“The efforts by MDES will ensure any unemployment benefits go to those who are in need and not those who intentionally abuse it,” Gov. Phil Bryant said in a news release.