It’s good to see a story that reminds me California’s government has been, for most of the duration of the coronavirus crisis, incompetent and bungling. It’s like my morning coffee. Sometimes, if I manage to forget it’s a day that ends in a Y, I’ll read the Los Angeles Times and see that, yes, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s administration in Sacramento is still managing to make a bungle out of this whole thing.
For instance, today I awoke from a bad dream where I thought we’d adopted the French revolutionary calendar — which divided weeks into 10-day periods, the court being Quartidi. Or maybe I thought we’d put TikTokkers in charge of spelling and it was now called Wendsdae. (As I said, I’m in pretty wretched shape before caffeination.)
But, no. A quick reach for my iPhone and a flip through the LA Times notifications revealed that it reported late Tuesday evening that California sent millions in coronavirus jobless benefits to prisoners locked up out of state. The day of the week did, in fact, end with the next-to-last letter of the alphabet. God is in his heaven, all is right with the world. Amen and awoman.
According to the report, $42 million of a potential $4 billion in fraudulent state jobless benefits went to people incarcerated in jails and prisons outside of California. The Golden State was exporting its fraudulent unemployment checks to correctional facilities across the fruited plain.
Of course, what would a story like this be without a cameo appearance from America’s weirdest state, Florida?
“A large number of Florida inmates, including a man sentenced to 20 years for second-degree murder, are among the thousands of out-of-state prisoners who have allegedly received California pandemic unemployment benefits, according to a December analysis commissioned by the state Employment Development Department and reviewed by The Times,” the report said.
There were, according to the analysis by California’s Employment Development Department, over 6,000 individuals who were in jails and prisons in other states who had their claims approved.
Granted, this is out of 10 million people claiming benefits during the pandemic — but surely someone would have noticed it was going to the Okeechobee Correctional Institution in Florida at the EDD and thought to himself, “Hmm, wait a second,” right?
Alas, no. Still a day that ends in Y. To be fair — in the very slightest way — I’m sure that’s not the address fraudsters used. That still doesn’t make things better when you consider how little work was likely required to discover this.
And that $42 million is on the low end of things, at least if you look at a wider estimate.
“Altogether, the analysis found there were more than 20,000 claims deemed at high or moderate risk of having been paid to an incarcerated person, either in California or another state,” the Times reported.
“If all those claims were fraudulent, the $42 million estimate of payments to inmates would jump to $96 million.”
This is stuff that should have been caught.
The convicted murderer, for instance, is Nakeva Thornton, 43, who was sentenced in 2012 to 20 years behind bars. Thornton collected $10,800 in benefits.
Another $9,000 went to a sex offender who’s in the Florida pen for burglary and isn’t scheduled for release for another three years.
And that’s just Florida.
“The analysis identified inmates receiving California benefits in other states, including Nevada, Illinois and South Carolina,” the Times reported.
“Prison officials in Nevada and Illinois did not immediately comment on the allegations, but South Carolina Department of Corrections spokeswoman Chrysti Shain said her department had ‘not been notified by California authorities or anyone that any of our inmates are involved in this.’”
California has frozen benefits to many recipients because of its fraud problem; that $4 billion number is more than twice what was expected. Last month, according to KTTV-TV, Bank of America — which issues EDD cards — estimated over 340,000 cases of fraud worth more than $2 billion.
“You have been receiving unemployment benefits, but we have temporarily suspended your claim because it may be tied to fraudulent activity,” the message sent to those affected read.
And, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, this included many legitimate recipients. But, alas, they couldn’t have ferreted out the prisoners receiving benefits, particularly the ones who were out of state.
I have to hand it to California. Usually, when the state’s COVID-adjacent mismanagement amazes me, it has something to do with lockdowns or some politician flouting them, not prisoners receiving unemployment payments. It’s a brand new way to remind me every day ends in Y.
I can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings. Can Gavin Newsom cause an earthquake by attending a noncompliant party at a Michelin-starred restaurant? Probably not, but stay tuned. Almost anything, apparently, can and will happen.
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