Washington, D.C. – As a former sheriff and now Chairman of the Human Resources Subcommittee of the Committee on Ways and Means with jurisdiction over the Unemployment Insurance (UI) program, today Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA) introduced H.R. 2826, the Permanently Ending Receipt by Prisoners Act, also known as the PERP Act.
In introducing this legislation, Congressman Reichert said, “We must make it very clear that incarcerated individuals should not be receiving unemployment benefits. This type of assistance is for people who are able and trying to find work and provide for their families, but who have fallen on hard times. It is an injustice that the tax dollars of law-abiding citizens are being used to provide assistance to people who have broken the law and no longer qualify for the benefits they are receiving.”
In introducing the PERP Act, Chairman Reichert was joined by all Human Resources Subcommittee Republican Members including Todd Young (IN-9), Mike Kelly (PA-3), Tim Griffin (AR-2), Jim Renacci (OH-16), Tom Reed (NY-23) and Charles Boustany (LA-3) as original cosponsors on the legislation.
Under existing UI program rules in all States, an individual must be able, available, and actively seeking work in order to be eligible to collect UI benefits. Individuals confined in jails, prisons, and other penal institutions are by definition unable to fulfill the “able and available” requirement and therefore are presumed to be not eligible for UI benefits. Despite this fact, recent news articles in multiple States have repeatedly revealed unemployment benefit payments being made to incarcerated individuals. A key reason for these occurrences is that States do not access and use currently available databases to verify they are not paying UI checks to prisoners.
Solutions in the PERP Act
1. Bar States from paying UI checks to local, state and federal prisoners, strengthening a current implied prohibition because prisoners are not “able and available” for work.
2. Require State UI agencies to regularly compare UI rolls with currently available inmate rosters to ensure UI checks are not paid to current inmates. At a minimum, States must access and use prisoner information the Social Security Administration has collected and used since the mid-1990s to prevent the payment of Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefit checks to currently incarcerated individuals. This current data match is simple, quick, efficient, and can readily be replicated by States to ensure that UI benefit checks are no longer paid to prisoners.
News articles in recent years have detailed how prisoners in multiple states have collected UI checks while behind bars, despite apparent current laws restricting this practice:
Arizona: Arizona Paying Unemployment Benefits to Prisoners (4/30/13)
California: Inmate’s Unemployment Checks Cashed by Girlfriends, Spent on Gang (3/5/12)
Illinois: State: More than $2M in Unemployment Benefits Went to Inmates (10/9/12)
Maryland: Maryland Audit Finds Potentially $344,000 in Improper Unemployment Benefits (10/2/12)
Massachusetts: Inmate Collected Unemployment Benefits, Team 5 Investigates Finds (9/1/12)
Missouri: Agency: Missouri Prisoners Collecting Unemployment (12/11/2011)
Nevada: Nevada Inmates Collect Millions in Unemployment (12/14/12)
New Jersey: Audit Says 20,000 Inmates Were Mistakenly Paid Nearly $24M in State and Federal Benefits (5/29/13)
New York: Inmates in New York’s County Jails Collecting Unemployment Benefits Illegally (11/17/10)
Pennsylvania: Inmates Collect Millions in Unemployment Benefits in Philadelphia Jails (2/20/13)
South Carolina: Government Waste—Inmates Collecting Millions in Fraudulent Unemployment Checks (2/21/13)
Tennessee: Inmates Get Millions in Unemployment Checks (2/26/13)
Texas: Prisoners Collecting Millions in Unemployment While Behind Bars (2/21/13)
Utah: Audit Shows Utah Inmates Getting Benefits They Aren’t Entitled (7/8/13)
West Virginia: W.Va. Prison Inmates Receive Unemployment Benefits (9/13/11)
Wisconsin: Prison Inmates Wrongly Receive Unemployment (4/2/2011)