Incarcerated prisoners are not entitled to unemployment benefits because they obviously do not meet the condition of being able, available, and actively looking for work. Unemployment benefits are meant to act as a temporary safety net for employees who are out of work through no fault of their own — to tide them over until they can find a new job.
But we are seeing too many headlines from other states that read something like “1,000 prisoners collected weekly unemployment costing taxpayers millions.” Where does North Carolina stand in the procedures and money paid out to people who are in prison? The best way to answer this question was to do a Public Records Request to the Division of Employment Security and see what North Carolina was doing.
The response was:
2012 Prison cross match was 165
2013 Prison cross match was 97
Our prison cross match is done directly with the NC Department of Corrections. The Jail cross match information was received through our work with the North Carolina Financial Accountability and Compliance Technology System (NCFACTS) project that has also been able to provide some North Carolina Department of Corrections (NCDOC) cross match information. We are working with the NCFACTS project to develop a fraud tool that would provide continuous alerts of individuals who may be incarcerated and filing a claim for Unemployment Insurance benefits.
Detecting, stopping and recovering fraudulent payments are a priority for this Division.
Acting Public Information Director
This means that North Carolina checks all their applicants for Unemployment Benefits and we shouldn’t see North Carolina in the headlines anytime soon. While the numbers seem believable what are the checks and balances that are in place?
Individuals who file for unemployment benefits can apply online or over the phone. When making a claim the claimant must give the following information: full name, social security number, date of birth, current address, telephone number, last employer, and dates of employment.
Claimants are given instructions on filing each week; they can file by calling a toll-free number or by going online. Both filing methods have the same series of questions that must be answered each week to process a claim for benefits. Each claimant has a waiting period, and barring any eligibility issues, the claimant should receive benefits approximately two weeks after initiating a claim.
Each month, NC Dept of Commerce/DES runs a cross-match of claimants filing for unemployment benefits and individuals currently incarcerated in a state facility. The fraud investigation unit matches the dates of incarceration against the dates the claimant filed for benefits. Once this information is verified, the case is assigned to an investigator for completion. That investigator will contact the correctional facility to schedule a conference to take the claimant’s statement. The investigator will question the claimant as to why he/she continued to file for benefits while being unavailable to work or seek work. Once the investigation is completed, the case is adjudicated, rendering the claimant ineligible for benefits for one year.
Dale Folwell was named the head of the state’s Division of Employment Security in 2013. He said he is committed to the agency and is working on improving the accuracy of its claims process to reduce fraud and waste, according to a WRAL article earlier this year. In an interview, Folwell made a point of saying, “Any time one dollar or one ounce of energy goes towards someone who is not entitled to benefits then those who are entitled lose.”
Unemployment fraud flares up around the country. In October, Illinois announced that inmates cashed more than $2 million, while Arizona inmates collected more than $1 million. It seems as though North Carolina has a system that will make sure that headline will not appear in our state. North Carolina is putting steps in place to make sure those who are able, available, and actively looking for work to be the only ones who receive unemployment benefits.