LIMA — For the third year running, the Investigations/Overpayment Recovery Unit at Allen County Department of Job and Family Services has received top honors in disqualifying individuals from the food assistance program, establishing food assistance overpayments and second place in the most collections from the Ohio Council on Welfare Fraud Conference in Columbus.
“Welfare fraud is a crime and that is something that we want to stress people,” Investigations/Overpayment Recovery Supervisor Beth Bunke said. “Fraud doesn’t just affect people on assistance; it affects everybody.”
Out of the 5,812 households on foodstamps in 2017, the unit discovered 255 intentional violations, or four percent of overall cases; identified overpayment practices in 517 cases, or eight percent of cases, and collected roughly $425,000 in overpayments due to the state.
ACDJFS Director Joe Patton said the number of violations is most likely higher and the rate of misuse could potentially reach as high as 20 percent, although not all overpayment cases are intentional.
“I know there’s more than what we’re catching,” Patton said.
An added benefit of being proactive against welfare fraud is a portion of overpayments collected can be used locally by the agency.
The unit of six investigators looks into food assistance fraud spurred by both internal and external complaints. Internal complaints arise from communication with caseworkers or from incorrect details found on application forms. External complaints come from the public.
The unit will then check to see if the income or number of people claimed as a part of a household has been reported accurately. To be charged criminally, however, intent must be proven.
Sometimes, an individual may fail to report a new job or a raise to the agency and still receive benefits at an earlier level. In that case, the misrepresentation may have been an accident. Still, any overpayments have to repaid to the county.
Households qualify for food assistance if their income level is below a particular threshold established by the state, which may raise or lower depending on the number of individuals in a household.
The unit encourages individuals who know of welfare fraud to report it to 419-228-2120. If desired, tips can be delivered anonymously, Bunke said.
Reach Josh Ellerbrock at 567-242-0398.