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According to a report in the Modesto Bee, the battle against unemployment insurance scams – fraud that’s meant an estimated $20 billion in suspect payments in California – got powerful new tools from President Joe Biden in his State of the Union address.

We’re going after the criminals who stole billions in relief money meant for small business and millions of Americans. And tonight, I’m announcing that the Justice Department will soon name a chief prosecutor for pandemic fraud.,” the president said. Members of Congress applauded the idea.

Nancy Farias, director of California’s Employment Development Department, enthusiastically welcomed the news. EDD manages the state’s unemployment program.

“California took aggressive and unprecedented action to block fraudsters who scammed the emergency federal benefit programs,” she told The Sacramento Bee. “The president’s move to boost fraud fighting will help states continue to hold criminals accountable.”

A White House fact sheet explained how the already-existing Justice Fraud Enforcement Task Force would name the chief prosecutor. The prosecutor would focus on “the most egregious forms of pandemic fraud.”

The new appointee would “lead teams of specialized prosecutors and agents focusing on major targets of pandemic fraud, such as those committing large-scale identity theft, including foreign-based actors.”

These strike force teams, it said, would use analytics to “to connect the dots on identity theft and other complex fraud schemes committed across state lines or transnationally, as well as investigate major cases of criminal fraud in programs like the Paycheck Protection Program and Unemployment Insurance.”

The White House plan will need Congress to approve more funds and increase penalties for criminals who commit pandemic-related fraud. Biden also pledged an executive order to help prevent identity theft in public benefit programs.

The White House offered no details, saying the order would aim to “prevent and detect identity theft involving public benefits, while protecting privacy and civil liberties and preventing bias that results in disparate outcomes.”

In California, a team of state and local prosecutors has been working with the Justice Department and others to investigate unemployment insurance fraud. They’ve been eyeing suspected organized crime efforts in addition to individuals who are simply trying to deceive the government.