Suspended USC football player caught up in fraud probes after accessing benefits program faces the fallout

Local news

When USC wide receiver Munir McClain decided to seek newly available unemployment benefits after his sneaker-resale business dried up amid the pandemic, little did he know he was stepping into a morass.

The Pandemic Unemployment Assistance program he accessed that was established under the $2-trillion federal stimulus has so far provided more than $37 billion alone to Californians who typically aren’t eligible for such aid, including business owners, gig workers and even college students.

Amid historic unemployment in the state, however, the California Employment Development Department has struggled to rapidly disburse benefits under that and other programs to millions of workers, while swindlers ranging from international criminal rings to local fraudsters have jumped at the chance to get a piece of the action — prompting an aggressive law enforcement response.

“Ordinarily, the policing of fraud is way overemphasized in unemployment insurance to the detriment of paying out benefits in a timely manner,” said Michele Evermore, a senior policy analyst at the National Employment Law Project, a New York-based advocacy group. “But fraud is a serious problem now. It’s bad people taking money away from a program to help people and to help our economy recover from the recession.”

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