by Matt Lacy –
State officials in Illinois have revealed that they paid over 1,100 inmates more than $2 million in unemployment benefits while they are in jail.
According to the Associated Press, the Illinois Department of Employment Security said one inmate in the Cook County jail in Chicago was able to collect nearly $43,000 in unemployment benefits, however most of the inmates were paid less than that.
While the fraud happened in county jails all around the state, the majority of the fraud occurred in Chicago’s Cook County jail system where nearly 296 inmates appear to have collected over $722,000 in benefits.
According to the AP, Greg Rivera, a department spokesman indicated it was possible inmates may not have known they were being paid the benefits and they state would attempt to get the money back.
“Assuming that the individual knew that benefits were being paid for him, we would first start with that individual, take a look at the circumstances, take a look at the length of the fraud and take a look at their willingness to cooperate in repaying the dollars, and we would consider all of that,” Rivera said.
With the consistently high unemployment rate which has resulted in millions of people being unemployed for over a year or more, states are often overwhelmed with the number of cases they receive.
Unlike years ago when individuals had to meet with a person face to face to obtain benefits, today the process is mostly done online or by phone. Once benefits are approved all a person needs to do is go online or make a phone call every two weeks where they state whether or not they have looked for work and are available to work .
This summer the state decided to begin comparing lists of jail inmates around the state against its unemployment rolls after a Republican state legislator, Rep. John Cavaletto inquired about it after receiving reports of inmates in a jail in his district using the phone check in system.
Rivera said until Cavaletto asked about the fraud they had never considered looking for among jail inmates.
Cavaletto said he was shocked by the results.
“I didn’t know how big it was when we got into it because it kind of started with an isolated incident,” he said. “I really believe that’s just kind of the tip of the ice berg. How much through the years has this really been robbing us and how much fraud is going on here?”