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Cross-match ousts offender off unemployment
JEFFERSON CITY — Within less than a month of implementing its new cross-matching process, the Missouri Department of Labor’s Division of Employment Security (DES) discovered that an individual filed for Unemployment Insurance (UI) benefits while incarcerated. The DES began cross-matching its list of claimants receiving unemployment benefits to the state inmate list in mid-November of this year after reaching an agreement with the Missouri Department of Corrections (DOC) and implementing the computer system necessary to query the information.
“People in prison are not eligible to collect benefits because they are not able and available for work—one of the core requirements needed to file and receive unemployment,” says Department of Labor Director Larry Rebman. “This new initiative illustrates that by joining forces with other agencies, we make it harder for those who try to cheat the system and take money that does not belong to them.”
The offender was denied benefits under the UI program because he admitted to quitting his job when he filed his claim. To be eligible for benefits, claimants must lose their jobs due to no fault of their own.
Once the new cross-matching program was implemented fully, the DES conducted a retroactive cross-match of claimants with an active benefit year to the DOC list of inmates who were incarcerated during the same period. This resulted in the finding of 10 additional inmates filing for unemployment benefits. Seven of those filed and received benefits and now owe approximately $14,000 in overpayments (not including penalties). All payments have since ceased and the Department will move forward with further investigation of these cases, which ultimately could lead to criminal charges being filed against the claimants.
“To gain access to the system, some inmates have others pose as them to take care of their in-person reporting requirement to the Missouri Career Centers to maintain eligibility,” says Rebman. “Eventually, these bad actors will get caught.”
“The Department of Corrections is pleased to be working with the Department of Labor on this important project. We are committed to rehabilitating individuals and this cannot be completed if they continue to violate the laws while in prison,” says Department of Corrections Director George Lombardi.
Other DES efforts to detect fraud and improper payments of unemployment benefits include hiring of more staff and the formation of the Fraud Taskforce. This DES team is comprised of veteran staff who have years of experience in reviewing fraudulent activity. Another tool used to identify ineligible claimants is to cross-check the benefit records to the National Directory of New Hires as well as conduct a verification check with the databases of the Social Security Administration and the Missouri Department of Revenue’s Drivers License system.
“A report by the Wall Street Journal found that Missouri’s improper payment rate was much lower than the majority of other states,” says Rebman. “We will continue to improve our processes.”
So far in 2011, the DES has discovered more than 14,800 acts of fraud, resulting in approximately $20.7 million in benefit overpayments. The DES already has referred 361 cases to prosecution in 2011, which has resulted in a 28 percent increase from the previous year. A new law passed this year also requires those who have committed fraud in the past to pay their penalties in full before being eligible for any additional unemployment benefits. This year to date, the DES has recovered more than $1.5 million in penalties and more than $18.9 million in restitution. In addition, the DES has a mechanism in place to intercept personal income state tax refunds and lottery winnings to pay back benefit overpayments and penalties.
For more information on unemployment or to report unemployment fraud, visit www.labor.mo.gov/DES/report_fraud.asp