Monday, January 01, 2007

7400 food stamp payments made to people who had died

Welfare fraud -
Indictments show need for legislative oversight
Lexington Herald-Leader, Oct. 4, 2006, pg. A12.

A special grand jury's indictments of some state workers for welfare fraud and its report indicating serious management woes demand General Assembly attention.

Cabinet for Health and Human Services officials say they have improved their efforts to prevent, identify and prosecute fraud. Those plans need to be append byline Reviewed by an interim legislative committee.

Lawmakers also need to determine whether the cabinet should again contract with the Attorney General's Office for fraud prosecutions. In the meantime, state officials should prepare a point-by-point plan for addressing the problems the grand jury identified.

Ten people -- nearly all current or former welfare state workers or contractors -- were charged with 136 felonies that resulted in losses of more than $700,000 to the state.

The charges include embezzlement, fraudulent use of a food stamp card, false claims for Medicaid benefits and putting false information in state computer systems.

Yet, with the help of the state auditor's office, the grand jury also spelled out reasons that it thought the welfare system is riddled with fraud.

One of the most startling reasons is the caseload: an average of 800 cases. That kind of overburdening makes workers feel unappreciated, a dangerous situation when many caseworkers earn entry-level state salaries.

Worse, it defeats the purpose of welfare reform, which is supposed to promote agencies working more closely with families to help them toward self-sufficiency.

Adding caseworkers should be more a priority of the Fletcher administration than, for instance, adding a dozen $75,000 management positions to do the hiring for the Transportation Cabinet.

Another grand jury suggestion is about simple coordination: check with the agency that keeps track of who dies.

During the year that ended June 30, 2005, about 7,400 payments were made to food-stamp accounts of people who had died, Auditor Crit Luallen found.

Freeze food-stamp accounts if they are not used after three months, the grand jury said. Currently, money is posted to an account for up to nine months, even if the debit-type card has not been used.

Such common-sense suggestions from citizens who spent nearly five months going through this information should not get lost in the continuing debate between the attorney general and the cabinet about who's tougher on fraud.

That's why it is time for lawmakers to provide the oversight for which they are responsible.


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