(CBS Detroit) — Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is creating an unemployment insurance fraud response team, allowing state department and law enforcement partners to identify, investigate and prosecute those who steal unemployment benefits.

This comes after a report says the state allegedly gave away $8.5 billion in fraudulent benefits.

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The figure, provided by Deloitte, came more than a year after the firm said the state Unemployment Insurance Agency expected fraud losses in the “hundreds of millions” of dollars. State auditors have since reported that the agency improperly paid $3.9 billion to claimants who were later deemed ineligible.

The new response team was created under Executive Order 2021-16 signed by the governor on Wednesday.

“Our diligence in identifying fraudulent claims proves that we now have effective processes to identify criminals who steal benefits from unemployed workers and Michigan taxpayers,” said UIA Directo Julia Dale. “We will use all the sophisticated tools available to us – and pursue new opportunities and partnerships – to continue aggressively fighting unemployment insurance fraud.”

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Roughly 97% of the fraudulent benefits were federally funded, with the remaining 3 % coming from the state.

Additionally, Whitmer issued Executive Order 2021-14, which directs the UIA to continue to use new technologies, integrate stakeholder expertise, partner with community organizations to educate potential claimants, and prioritize enforcement of fraud cases through the response team.

“It’s extremely important that we continue to push back on bad actors who look to take advantage of a vital safety net resource for out-of-work Michiganders,” Whitmer said. “While we are seeing increased success in identifying and stopping fraudulent claims, we cannot let up. We owe it to workers to make sure this jobs resource is available when they need it the most. Today’s action ensures the Unemployment Insurance Fraud Response Team continues to have the expertise and tools necessary to ramp up our efforts to prevent bad actors from defrauding the system.”

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