With great aplomb the Sullivan County Legislature announced the formation of a new welfare fraud unit designed to locate and apprehend those who have been illegally receiving welfare and Medicaid benefits.
Also allegedly included among the targeted perpetrators are vendors that allegedly overcharge the county for their goods and services.
In order to achieve the lofty goals set for this investigative unit, the county hired Gerard Dietz, a former Monticello detective to head the department. And behold, just a week after the unit was formed, the news media was already reporting the arrests of several alleged welfare cheats.
No providers however, just recipients.
The formation of this new welfare fraud unit all came about to address two major concerns of a number of county legislators. The first concern involves a perception that big sums of cash and Medicaid services are being spent unwisely and illegally on the poor and that such fraud and waste is looting the county treasury. There is also this grave concern that Sullivan County actually welcomes more poor people to move here and makes it easy to readily collect benefits.
Democratic Legislator Cindy Geiger was the main driving force to establishing the new unit, claiming that overriding, unjustified costs due to fraud adversely affects the taxpayer, as well as legitimate welfare recipients, veterans, seniors, and the disabled.
Despite the earnestness and idealism of Ms. Geiger and her fellow legislators in rooting out the fraudulent, these county legislators have a lot to learn about welfare fraud.
Here are the true facts: There are two types of entities that benefit from the welfare/Medicaid system: the actual clients and the vendors and other providers, some of whom are the true, big cheaters in the system.
In order to truly save money, the county should be investing its investigative-and increasing auditing procedures and resources too-in getting medical facilities, transportation providers, and others that have grown rich and that profit handsomely from the welfare business to deliver their services more honestly, and cheaply and efficiently too.
Right now, they provide services like giving unnecessary medical tests knowing full well that the county will foot the bill without any question.
Stop picking on the poor cheating the system alone.
For instance, food stamps can’t be used to buy dog food. Yet it’s easy for a grocer to look the other way at the checkout counter. It’s not all that altruistic–it’s profitable.
Yet, are any of these grocers getting arrested? Nope, only the poor people accused of cheating the system.
And it’s just not a cultural problem in Sullivan County. Congress recently investigated and sanctioned New York State for zealously overcharging Medicaid services for years. The rich providers got very wealthy fraudulently overcharging the system.
Funny though, you don’t see any program heads or hospital directors getting arrested here in Sullivan County or the NYS, just those poor people committing welfare fraud.
And unlike the providers, what many who are concerned about welfare fraud don’t realize or refuse to acknowledge and understand is that recipients aren’t looking to get rich on the pittance that is paid out to them.
Generally there are two major categories of welfare fraud. Often the breadwinner, usually the children’s father is claimed to have fled the household, when actually he/she is be employed, and later sneaks back into the home in the evening to avoid detection. The other main area of fraud involves unreported income, where, usually the single-parent mother is working under-the-table, often as a babysitter in order to supplement the welfare income.
In both cases the goal of the recipient is merely surviving, rather than achieving a wealthy lifestyle that many welfare providers live and retire in. It usually comes down to these “desperate criminals” just trying to make ends meet.
In a county in a neighboring state, where I was a former welfare fraud investigative supervisor, most prosecutors recognized that welfare fraud is a social, rather than a criminal problem.
As such, they usually seek recoupment from the client through a reduction in monthly welfare payments until the “debt” is paid.
There, prosecutors find that recoupment is much preferred over the costs of arresting, trying in court, and sentencing welfare clients to jail terms. The internment upkeep alone usually far exceeds the amount of welfare fraud.
These lessons should be applied in Sullivan County. Arresting and jailing welfare cheats is misguided-and can be a greater burden on the taxpayer too.
Here’s an important question: What’s to become of the children that the welfare system is supposed to protect if one or both their parents are languishing in jail costing Sullivan County residents $50+ a day to house and feed?
Geiger and the other county legislators should stop their capitalizing on the headlines to further their political careers at the cost of a few desperate poor people.
And stop criminalizing the desperation of the poor too!
Instead, the county needs to start addressing the high costs of the fraud and waste perpetrated by welfare system providers (many who are politically connected and big campaign donors) and recoup the real savings to be had in reducing the county’s burden to feed, house and care for the poor.
But that takes true political courage-and I bet we won’t be seeing any headlines soon, if ever, about any local welfare kings really cheating the system being arrested by that new fraud unit.