By Rockland County Executive Ed Day
2015 was a bad year for welfare cheats in Rockland County. My administration’s increased efforts to crack down on fraud uncovered more than $1 million in public assistance overpayments in just 12 months. The investigators in our Department of Social Services reviewed over 1,200 applications – up 27 percent from 2014 – denying dozens for food stamp benefits, cash assistance, Medicaid payments and day care subsidies.
Our overall efforts to fight welfare fraud actually resulted in over $2.2 million in public assistance cost-avoidance savings and overpayments identified in 2015. Let me explain.
When applying for government programs, including Medicaid, SNAP benefits, housing or child care, the County’s social welfare examiners are trained to identify criteria that are common indicators of possible fraud. Suspect applicants are “flagged” and referred to the Front End Detection System where investigators evaluate information by interviewing applicants to confirm bank documents, credit reports and, in some cases, make field visits.
In 2015, DSS received 1,250 referrals for investigation. Of those, Front End fraud detection reviewed 326 public assistance applications. Upon review, 111 of those referrals resulted in immediate actions, including the denial of the application, the withdrawal of the application or the reduction of benefits issued on the front end. In simple terms, we sniffed out the scammers before they hooked in to the system.
During the first two years of my administration, our DSS investigators have denied benefits on 209 occasions, without a single taxpayer penny going to the applicant, ultimately saving millions of your dollars.
An additional 418 cases on the “back end” resulted in additional actions in 2015, including case closings and the attempted recovery of previously received benefits. (We’re clawing back the ill-gotten funds.) Some cases were taken a step further, leading to over 20 administrative disqualifications and referral to the District Attorney for possible criminal charges.
I want to applaud our Department of Social Services for their hard work in cracking down on those trying to scam the system. I will not tolerate people trying to take money out of the pockets of our taxpayers in Rockland County. Residents should have the utmost confidence that their hard earned tax dollars are spent with accountability.
The problem of welfare fraud is growing monthly as the number of Rockland County residents – 99,000 out of 320,000 – who receive some form of assistance from the county grows.
Only by advocating together for critical changes to state welfare laws will we successfully take steps forward in the battle to safeguard taxpayer resources and to ensure the integrity of essential programs. Contact your state representatives and demand change!
Our hardworking residents invest millions of dollars each year in public funds to assist their neighbors who need help – people who meet eligibility requirements to receive public assistance for the basic necessities of life. Dishonesty within our public assistance system diverts precious taxpayer dollars, drives up costs and jeopardizes the strength of programs that serve our most vulnerable residents.
With aggressive DSS investigations at the source and aggressive prosecution by District Attorney Tom Zugibe, we are better protecting Rockland County taxpayers, as well as the limited pool of resources available to help our neediest population.