New York is launching an effort to curtail unemployment insurance scams following an investigation that found $11 million in fraudulent benefit payments made last month, Gov. Kathy Hochul on Monday said. 

The scale and scope of the fraudulent benefits underscores the massive amount of money sent out the door meant to help people during the initial months of the COVID pandemic. A record $19 billion was spent amid a spike in joblessness during the initial closure of business, schools and other public gathering spaces. 

"At the height of the pandemic, when our state experienced an unprecedented unemployment crisis, these fraudulent unemployment insurance claims took resources away from New Yorkers who needed them most," Hochul said. "My administration is taking action to step up our investigations of unemployment insurance fraud, hold those who take advantage of the system accountable, and protect this crucial benefit for New Yorkers in need."

The benefits, investigators found, were paid almost entirely to people who were working while also collecting benefits during the pandemic. 

State officials are trying to recoup those benefits and refer non-payment to law enforcement. The state Department of Labor is expected to uncover $110 million in total fraud payments this year. 

New York is currently in the middle of a four-year plan to overhaul the customer service and anti-fraud effort at the Department of Labor. 

"When someone files a fraudulent unemployment insurance claim, they are stealing from New Yorkers," said Labor Commissioner Roberta Reardon. "The department remains vigilant and will continue to ensure that these criminals are held accountable. We thank businesses and employers for working with us to uncover fraud."