The Elements and Possible Consequences of Reemployment Assistance Fraud
Florida has a Reemployment Assistance Program that allows qualified workers who are unemployed through no fault of their own to receive temporary, partial wage replacement benefits. This program is funded through federal and state employers who pay annual federal and state payroll taxes and qualified workers do not need to pay anything to receive these benefits. However, there are at times workers who try to “game the system” and receive benefits they are not would not otherwise be entitled to by filling out their claim with false statements. Specifically, reemployment assistance fraud (“RA fraud”) is defined as knowingly collecting benefits after intentionally providing false or inaccurate information for the purpose of obtaining or preventing payment of said benefits.
Background of Reemployment Assistance
The Reemployment Assistance Program started in 2012 as a rebranded form of unemployment compensation. Under the program, if workers qualify, they will receive weekly benefits paid from the Florida Unemployment Compensation Trust Fund. In order to qualify, the worker must meet several factors, including but not limited to:
- Be fully or partially unemployed;
- File an initial claim for benefits online;
- Have the necessary wage credits for work in covered employment during the base period;
- Be able and available to work and actively seeking employment;
- Be registered in Employ Florida Marketplace;
- Participate in reemployment services such as job search assistance service.
After a claimant files for reemployment assistance, the Department of Economic Opportunity, Division of Workplace Services will contact the employer to determine whether that individual is entitled to benefits.
What are Examples of RA Fraud?
While there can be many circumstances that constitute RA fraud, there are several common examples:
- When an employee starts working again but opts to continue collecting RA benefits.
- When an individual starts working on a temporary or on a seasonal basis while collecting RA benefits, but fails to report their earnings when filing their weekly claim.
- When an individual withholds information or provides false information to the state RA agency.
- When an employee misrepresents the reason for job separation.
- When an individual works part-time but does not report their earnings to the state and collects more benefits than they are owed.
What are the Criminal Penalties for RA Fraud?
Florida classifies RA fraud as a third degree felony. Specifically, Fla. Stat. Ann. § 443.071 specifically provides that each individual false statement or representation or failure to disclose a material fact made by an individual is considered a separate offense. This means that if you are convicted of RA fraud, for each offense, you may face a large number of different penalties:
- Being ordered to repay the RA benefits collected over and above what the individual was entitled to, plus a penalty of 15 percent of the amount overpaid;
- Foregoing future income tax refunds;
- Being prosecuted by the State’s Attorney;
- Prison, jail or community service hours;
- Becoming ineligible to collect RA benefits until the individual repays their overpaid benefits.
Reach Out to Us For Assistance
If you have been charged with reemployment assistance fraud, the experienced Winter Park criminal defense attorneys at Cotter & Zelman, P.A. can help you develop an action plan to best build your criminal defense against the charge. Contact us today to discuss potential defenses and other ways to help you achieve a more favorable result in your case.