An audit released last week by the State Comptroller’s Office found that thousands of inmates have received millions of dollars in government benefits. State Comptroller Matthew Boxer told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that about $23 million in benefits were improperly paid over a 22-month period and that steps have now been taken to ensure improper payouts don’t occur in the future.
According to Boxer, about 20,000 incarcerated individuals improperly received benefits under government programs between 2009 and 2011. “Each of the state agencies responsible for the improper payments has committed to working to try to recover these payments that were made and try to claw the money back. And equally importantly, they’ve now put the right procedures in place, the proper controls so that going forward, these improper payments won’t happen again,” he said.
Boxer said the crimes committed by the individuals receiving benefits varied as well as the government programs. “We found narcotics related offenses, kidnapping, robbery — really crimes across the board. And involving a variety of different government programs as well,” he said.
As an example, Boxer said there were inmates who were participating in the unemployment program and getting those benefits while incarcerated. “The state law regarding unemployment payments is very clear that you’re not entitled to unemployment payments if you’re in jail. You can only get those payments if you are able to work and available for work. Obviously if you’re locked up and you’re behind bars, you are not available to work,” he explained.
According to Boxer, the inmates who received unemployment benefits falsely certified that they were available to work. He said they received the benefits improperly for as long as a year before being caught.
Boxer said it will be difficult to recover the benefit money. “The agencies are gonna work to do just that, case by case. But we’ve got the pipeline cut off going forward by putting the controls in that we’ve now put in. And so this problem should come to an end right now,” he said.