WINNEBAGO COUNTY WIFR) -- State officials say twenty inmates in the Winnebago County Jail illegally collected nearly $85,000 in unemployment benefits this year.
The Illinois Department of Employment Security (IDES) says in a three month period this year it gave out more than $2 million in unemployment benefits to people behind bars. As they do more research, that number seems to keep growing.
The IDES says jail officials had no way to know who was illegally collecting benefits because the state doesn't have a system to cross check records. In order to qualify for unemployment benefits you have to be willing and able to work and obviously people in jail shouldn't make the cut. The IDES says inmates who got the money either had someone on the outside lie for them or they didn't know their information was being used to collect.
"They shouldn't be drawing these benefits. They should go to somebody who needs them who is not incarcerated," said Winnebago County Sheriff, Richard Meyers.
In Winnebago County inmates don't have access to the internet, so they couldn't have done the paperwork from inside the jail. The state plans to get the money back by garnishing tax returns. Inmates have already returned millions of dollars just because the state asked for the money back.
The sheriff says the state is working on an online system to cross check the names of inmates with benefit recipients and Winnebago County will likely be part of a pilot program to prevent this from happening again. They already work with the federal government to make sure inmates don't get social security checks.