FILE - In this June 15, 2018 file photo, twenty dollar bills are counted in North Andover, Mass.

The state paid out $8.57 billion in unemployment benefits to 721,887 individuals in the year following the height of the pandemic – and $1.08 million was paid to 374 deceased individuals, according to a report by the Louisiana Legislative Auditor’s Office released Monday.

Of the $1.08 million in federal and state payments by the Louisiana Workforce Commission between March 2020 and April 2021 to deceased applicants, $629,091 could not have been prevented, but $337,007 should have been prevented by LWC’s current controls, according to the report.

About 574 payments totaling $123,194 to 116 individuals could have been prevented if the Workforce Commission conducted a weekly match with the Louisiana Department of Health’s death data instead of a monthly match.

The Workforce Commission updates its information on deceased individuals monthly. But weekly data is available from the Health Department. Claimants for unemployment benefits need to re-certify their need for benefits each week.

But the Workforce Commission can attempt to recover all of the potentially improper payments.

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Louisiana Workforce Commission Secretary Ava Cates responded in a letter that the LWC would work harder to compare the Health Department, LDH, and Social Security Administration databases of people who died the previous week. But she noted that a person paid unemployment benefits after death generally falls under two categories:  either filed by someone who believes the individual had been alive the week of coverage and therefore is entitled to the benefits or someone intending to commit fraud. The agency’s investigators also came across mistakes in agency databases.

“Although the LWC will pursue a more frequent crossmatch with LDH for death records as recommended, this will not prevent all improper payments in the future. It is virtually impossible to be immediately informed that an individual is deceased,” Cates wrote.

Louisiana’s unemployment rate grew from 5.2% in February 2020 to 13.1% in April 2020, and the total number of State UI claims increased by more than 2,000%, from 16,798 on February 29, 2020, to 366,798 on April 25, 2020.

Louisiana provides weekly state UI benefits of $10 to $247 to unemployed individuals who lost income or were separated from employment through no fault of their own.

Email Mark Ballard at mballard@theadvocate.com.