OLYMPIA – Washington paid unemployment benefits to more than 1,900 jail or prison inmates who weren’t eligible for them, an audit of the benefit system shows.
The Employment Security Department doesn’t have access to the information that would have made it easy to determine when recipients are in jail and shouldn’t be getting payments. Auditors estimate nearly $656,000 in benefits were improperly paid out between July 2013 and September 2014.
The state auditor’s office reported Monday its review of the department and jail records in Spokane and seven other counties found that some people in jail or prison sometimes continued to receive unemployment benefits. In most cases, that’s not allowed under state law.
But some of the personal information that could help identify those recipients and withhold their benefits – especially Social Security numbers – isn’t available to the Employment Security Department, auditors said.
The Legislature gave the auditor’s office, the Health Care Authority and a research division of the Department of Social and Health Services access to that information in 2014, auditors said, but not Employment Security. Without it, the department can’t always match the names from jail registers with its list of recipients.
Department officials and legislators should work together to add Employment Security to the law that allows limited access to the confidential information on jail registers, auditors said.
The department’s Office of Special Investigation looked into the cases in the audit and concluded that many payments it listed, worth about $420,000, were improper. The department partially or fully denied about 1,200 payments and began collections. It has recovered about $100,000 so far.
Employment Security officials told auditors they agree with the recommendation to change state law to give them access to the confidential information and are looking for other data that might also help them catch people.
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