Illinois paid out nearly $2 million in unemployment benefits to people while they were incarcerated. The state wants that money back.
And 27 inmates from the Illinois Valley are being asked to pay back nearly $57,000 in improper benefits.
To be eligible for unemployment insurance, an individual must be available for work. The Illinois Department of Employment Security thus began an inmate cross-matching system to identify individuals who were incarcerated and receiving benefits anyway.
IDES issued a press release this week announcing that 1,100 individuals could face criminal charges and must repay benefits that were wrongfully paid on their behalf while they were in jail or prison.
Locally, 27 inmates improperly collected $56,772. The list includes 20 inmates from La Salle County who were paid $32,849; three others were caught before receiving money, IDES said.
In Bureau County, $21,000 was paid to five inmates, and one other was caught before receiving money.
One inmate in Putnam County Jail was paid $2,821. IDES stopped a Marshall County inmate from being paid and then halted another’s benefits after a single payment of $102.
Todd Martin, chief deputy assistant La Salle County state’s attorney, said IDES has not yet identified any culprits who collected benefits while inside La Salle County Jail. However, Illinois law does recognize the offense of public benefits fraud, a Class 4 felony carrying 1-3 years in prison for amounts less than $300 and a Class 3 felony (2-5 years) for amounts above $300.
IDES discovered the improper payments by cross-checking its list of unemployment recipients against inmate lists from Illinois’ county jails and state prisons is the latest effort to protect taxpayers, prevent fraud, and help the economy, IDES director Jay Rowell said in the release. Integrity initiatives in the past year have saved $120 million.
“The inmate cross-matching initiative is another important step in rooting out waste, fraud and abuse,” Rowell said. “Money that funds the unemployment insurance program comes from businesses. Stopping fraud helps our businesses reduce costs, which leads to new hires and a stronger economy.”
The IDES data reflects payments from July, August and September and represents the integrity program’s first quarter.
IDES will seek repayment and garnish federal and state tax refunds if necessary. IDES also will prohibit individuals from collecting future unemployment insurance benefits as long as the debt is outstanding.
Rowell noted the largest single wrongfully collected amount was nearly $43,000 on behalf of one individual in the Cook County Jail.
Cook County led the state with 296 connected to $722,689 in wrongful payments.
IDES noted it is unlikely that jail officials and local leaders could have prevented the wrongful payments.
Tom Collins can be reached at (815) 220-6930 or firstname.lastname@example.org.