Nebraska prison inmates collected $156K in unemployment

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Nebraska prison inmates collected more than $156,000 in unemployment benefits because the state Department of Labor was never told who was incarcerated, officials announced Thursday.

More than 180 inmates claimed benefits between 2013 and 2015, despite a law that prohibits them from doing so. One inmate received $4,300 in fraudulent benefits, according to the Department of Labor.

The department said in a statement it previously wasn’t able to tell when a person was incarcerated, but the agency has launched a new crackdown effort with the Department of Correctional Services and the Nebraska Crime Commission.

Under a new system, the Department of Labor will be able to cross-match benefit claims with offender information from the other two agencies.

“With the help of the Crime Commission and the Department of Corrections, we have been able to open a new avenue for combatting unemployment fraud,” said Nebraska Labor Commissioner John Albin.

Albin said the state will recover the money through wage levies or by offsetting federal and state income tax refunds.

Claimants who fraudulently collect unemployment benefits are responsible for paying back the benefits plus a 15 percent penalty, and may face prosecution.

Nebraska has an unemployment insurance fraud rate of about 1 percent, compared with the national average of 2.72 percent, according to the Department of Labor.

The department said it will conduct data analysis, staff training and new technology to screen claims more thoroughly for fraud.

“The collaborative effort of the Crime Commission, Department of Corrections and Department of Labor is one example of how state agencies can successfully partner together to prevent, detect and reduce fraud,” said Crime Commission Executive Director Darrell Fisher.

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