Pa. inmates prevented from getting jobless benefits
State officials said they stopped unemployment payments from reaching almost 1,100 inmates in Pennsylvania's county prisons in January.
A new system thwarted inmates from collecting unemployment compensation by cross-matching their names with a Department of Labor and Industry database.
“It's an issue that many of us were concerned about,” said state Sen. John R. Gordner, R-Berwick, who chairs the Senate Committee on Labor and Industry. “I'm glad the system is operational.”
It works so well that officials are bumping up their estimate about how much fraud they might prevent.
They initially said the state could save almost $12 million a year by identifying and stopping jobless benefits to county jail inmates. The system saved more than half that in January, its first month in operation.
“We're certainly confident that we'll surpass our original estimate,” spokeswoman Sara Goulet said.
Such abuse has happened “for many years,” said Labor and Industry Secretary Julia Hearthway, who initiated the crackdown through her department's Office of Integrity, formed in 2011.
The government intends unemployment compensation for people who are laid off or lose their jobs when a company closes. Recipients must be ready to return to work and actively seeking another job.
That means someone in jail would not qualify.
“Clearly, this is not the population of people the unemployment compensation system was intended for,” said Alex Halper, manager of government affairs at the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
It is a nationwide problem.
The Department of Labor estimates $5.1 billion of the more than $45 billion in unemployment benefits paid between July 1, 2011, and June 30, 2012, was improper, such as going to people who collected checks after finding a job, said spokesman Jason Kuruvilla. About 3 percent resulted from fraud.
“The vast majority were the result of people who get jobs ... and continue to collect two to three weeks after they start work,” Kuruvilla said. “Their checks should end immediately after they begin working.”
The state's system utilizes the Pennsylvania Justice Network, or JNET, a secure database maintained by the Governor's Office of Administration for law enforcement agencies and prisons. When inmates enter a lockup, officials automatically compare their information against unemployment compensation lists.
“It almost works in real time,” said Dan Egan, spokesman for the Office of Administration. “When they're entering a name in the system, it's being cross-matched.”
When the department verifies a recipient of unemployment benefit is jailed, it stops the benefits. The person can reapply when released.
The system is used in 51 of Pennsylvania's 63 counties with jails. The goal is to expand it to all counties, Egan said.
Craig Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-380-5646 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Tiny black weevils booming in W.Pa.
- Independence Day festivities scheduled
- Tradition rules in Pittsburgh: Keep bridge color the same, poll finds
- Public implored to avoid iPhone cases that resemble guns
- Newsmaker: Justin Meinert
- Pittsburgh a big draw for tourists on July 4th weekend
- Fireworks displays costly, but W. Pa. communities feel obligated
- Higher school taxes prevail in Western Pennsylvania, Trib finds
- Homestead Cemetery records will be preserved
- Attorney general accuses Golden Living homes of failing to provide basic services to elderly
- South Side Slopes police chase ends with car into a front porch