- Associated Press - Friday, March 5, 2021

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (AP) - Rhode Island has received nearly 427,000 suspected fraudulent unemployment claims during the coronavirus pandemic, of which more than 56,000 have been confirmed to be phony, the state Department of Labor and Training said Friday.

The state has also paid out $37.6 million in confirmed fraudulent claims, and another $209.6 million has been paid out to suspected sham claims from March 9, 2020 to March 1, the agency said in a statement.

About $3.5 million in fraudulent payments have been recovered.

Rhode Island has experienced a problem that state unemployment insurance programs across the country have been dealing with during the pandemic. In response, the agency has been working with law enforcement, cybersecurity experts, the federal government and others to refine anti-fraud measures while ensuring that legitimate claims are processed, acting director Matthew Weldon said.

“We have taken great care to ensure that our anti-fraud efforts pose minimal hindrance to legitimate claimants who are reliant on unemployment benefits to provide for themselves and their families during this economic crisis,” he said.



The Department of Labor and Training has stopped an estimated $3.2 billion in fraudulent unemployment benefits from being paid out.

Hundreds of thousands of likely fraudulent claims remain under investigation.

Nationwide, the federal Labor Department inspector general’s office estimates that more than $63 billion has been paid out improperly through fraud or errors, The Associated Press reported Monday.

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UPDATED STATISTICS

Nearly 400 more coronavirus cases and two more virus-related deaths have been confirmed in Rhode Island, the state Department of Health said Friday.

Of the new cases, 333 were in people who tested positive for the first time on Thursday, and 61 were people who tested positive for the first time at an earlier date.

There have now been more than 128,000 confirmed cases and 2,541 fatalities in the state.

The number of COVID-19 hospitalizations had dropped to 141 as of Wednesday, the lowest single-day total since mid-October.

The latest seven-day average positivity rate in Rhode Island is 2.15%, up slightly from two weeks ago. State health departments are calculating positivity rate differently across the country, but for Rhode Island the AP calculates the rate by dividing new cases by test encounters using data from The COVID Tracking Project.

The seven-day rolling average of daily new cases in Rhode Island has also risen over the past two weeks from 354 on Feb. 18 to 363 on Thursday, according to the project.

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PROVIDENCE VACCINATIONS

Providence has had among the highest coronavirus infection and hospitalization rates in Rhode Island throughout the coronavirus pandemic, yet it currently has one of the lowest vaccination rates among all cities and towns in the state.

Just 14.2% of Providence residents had received at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, according to state Department of Health numbers Thursday. Only Woonsocket has a lower vaccination rate. Nearly 20% of the state’s population has received at least one vaccine dose.

“There are a lot of challenges - a lot of structural things,” Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza told WPRI-TV. “We have, by definition, hard-to-reach communities.”

The capital city’s low vaccination comes despite the fact that the state is allocating extra doses and authorizing expanded eligibility in some of the city’s hardest hit zip codes.

Reaching out to eligible residents and notifying them that these vaccines are available remains a challenge, Elorza said.

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CATHOLIC BISHOPS AND THE VACCINE

Rhode Island’s Roman Catholic bishop says the state’s Catholics should avoid the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine, if possible, because it is produced using a cell line derived from an aborted fetus.

But, Bishop Thomas Tobin said, getting the J&J; shot is OK if there are no alternatives.

“However, although it is not an ideal situation, if the other vaccines currently being used are not readily available, or if an individual cannot choose which vaccine to receive, individuals may receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine with a clear conscience and without incurring moral fault,” Tobin said in an email to The Providence Journal.

Tobin’s stance is consistent with that of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Tobin previously tweeted that he had received his first COVID-19 shot.

Johnson & Johnson in a statement earlier this week, while not disputing the church officials’ contention that an abortion-derived cell line is used in the production, stressed that there is no fetal tissue in its vaccine.

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