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State, County Prisoners in Pennsylvania Collect Unemployment Benefits

Philadelphia tabloids exposed in February 2016 a glitch in Pennsylvania's jobless assistance program that has allowed thousands of prisoners to collect unemployment checks from behind bars.

The Daily News reported that 1,162 Philadelphia Prison System (PPS) prisoners had each received unemployment checks averaging $344 a week over 18 weeks, totaling more than $7 million. Another 25,500 prisoners at county jails across the state, the Daily News said, got the same weekly checks.

Apparently, though, this is nothing new, as state prison officials have been working with Pennsylvania's Department of Labor and Industry since 1997 to match jobless-benefit records with Social Security numbers for incoming state prisoners to prohibit them from receiving unemployment checks.

But not until January 2013 did Labor and Industry implement a similar cross-match system to stop payments to county prisoners.

Now, according to state officials, unemployment-compensation payments to 3,000 prisoners have stopped, purportedly redistributing as much as $18 million annually into the state's coffers.

"Offenders who are already in custody and supported by public funds should not be able to collect twice," PPS commissioner Louis Giorla said in a tough-talking statement to the Daily News.

Of course, neither the tabloids nor state bureaucrats disclosed whether "incarcerated crooks," as one Daily News columnist referred to the prisoners, were actively scamming the system, or if the system itself was automatically sending out unemployment checks without the prisoners doing anything but cashing the checks.

Though that's likely irrelevant to tabloid writers who themselves would undoubtedly and righteously refuse government assistance for their families while being locked up.

Recent state audits in other parts of the country found that jobless benefits going to prisoners are not unique to Pennsylvania. Last year, 475 incarcerated offenders in Arizona received about $1.1 million in unemployment compensation, while undisclosed totals were also paid to South Carolina prisoners.


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