SPRINGFIELD (MCT) — More than 1,100 people have collected nearly $2 million in unemployment benefits while they were in county jails or state prisons, including $43,000 that went to a person in the Cook County Jail, a state agency said Tuesday.
Now they may face state or federal criminal fraud charges as well as having to repay what they shouldn’t have taken in the first place, said Greg Rivara, spokesman for the Illinois Department of Employment Security.
In Cook County alone, there were 296 inmates tied to $722,689 in wrongful payments. In Will County, 21 inmates collected $85,159. Lake County was another leader with 20 inmates collecting $84,533, the agency said.
The number of inmates in state prisons was unavailable but expected to be low, largely because of the time it takes an inmate to get into prison, Rivara said. The benefits last 26 weeks when economic times are good but have lasted as long as 99 weeks — or a little bit less than two years — at the height of the need for unemployment assistance, he said.
The state agency’s three-month study mostly found inmates collecting benefits from 2012, but there were some benefits linked to 2011 and two tied to benefits starting in 2010, Rivara said.
The recovered money will go into a state unemployment trust fund, helping to lessen pressure on businesses that foot costs for the pool of money.
Agency Director Jay Rowell said the cross-matching program represented an “important step in rooting out waste, fraud and abuse.”