By Jayette Bolinski | Illinois Watchdog
SPRINGFIELD – Illinois unemployment officials are trying to recoup nearly $2 million worth of benefits that wrongfully were paid to people while they were in jail or prison.
More than 1,100 people could be charged criminally for accepting the fraudulent benefits, according to the Illinois Department of Employment Security, which in July began cross-checking its rolls against inmate logs at prisons and jails throughout the state. People who receive unemployment benefits must be available for work, which they aren’t if they are incarcerated.
“The inmate cross-matching initiative is another important step in rooting out waste, fraud and abuse,” said Jay Rowell, director of the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
According to figures for July, August and September released by the agency Wednesday, the largest amount collected by someone in jail or prison was $43,000. That person was in the Cook County Jail. Also, 296 Cook County inmates collected $722,689 in wrongful payments.
Other counties that had a high amount of unemployment fraud among inmates were:
- Will County – 21 inmates collected $85,159,
- Winnebago County – 20 inmates collected $84,533,
- Lake County – 20 inmates collected $76,017,
- Peoria County – 21 inmates collected $72,350.
Rowell noted that businesses provide the money that funds the unemployment insurance program.
“Stopping fraud helps our businesses reduce costs, which leads to new hires and a stronger economy,” he said.
Jay Shattuck, director of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce Employment Law Council, commended the state’s effort to root out unemployment fraud.
“The IDES efforts are part of an effort to combat fraud and inappropriate payments, which was a focus of the Illinois Chamber in 2011,” he said. “The IDES program to weed out prisoners who are not available for work will help make benefits more available to eligible recipients and lead to lower costs for the employers who would otherwise be charged for the benefits and pay higher unemployment insurance taxes.”
State unemployment officials said they will deny future benefits to those who received fraudulent benefits until they pay back the money they owe. Some cases will be recommended for prosecution. They noted that some of those caught up in the fraud did not know someone continued to certify for benefits on their behalf while they were in jail or prison.