The Subcommittee on Human Resources of the Committee on Ways & Means will hold a hearing today on preventing the payment of unemployment benefits to incarcerated individuals and other ways to improve the integrity of the Unemployment Insurance program.
In announcing the hearing, Congressman Dave Reichert (R-WA), Chairman, stated, “Unemployment benefits are meant to provide needed assistance to individuals who have fallen on hard times, but who are able and trying to find works so they can provide for themselves and their families. In the case of incarcerated individuals, it is an injustice that the tax dollars of law-abiding citizens are being used to provide assistance to people who have broken the law and simply should not qualify for these benefits. We must make it very clear that unemployment benefits should go only to those who are eligible.”
The Federal-State Unemployment Insurance (UI) program was created by the Social Security Act of 1935 to assist unemployed individuals by offering weekly unemployment benefit checks for a limited time while they search for work. In order to be eligible for benefits, jobless workers must be able and available for work.
As a result of a series of laws enacted since June 2008 to provide additional Federal extended benefits during times of deep economic distress, the maximum number of weeks a payable to an unemployed person ballooned to a record 99 weeks—including 73 weeks of Federally-funded benefits. Since then the maximum number of eligible weeks has declined to 47 weeks.
Over the last five years, the UI program has made more than $58 billion in improper payments, with an error rate consistently above 10% for both State and Federal UI payments. During the same time period, employer taxes have also significantly increased, nearly doubling since the Recession began. For this reason, progress must be made in ensuring correct payments are made to the correct individuals.
A number of laws have been made in this direction, including: The Middle Class Tax Relief and Job Creation Act, the Claims Resolution Act of 2010, and Chairman Reichert’s most recent introduction H.R. 2826 the Permanently Ending Receipt by Prisoners Act.