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Soc 575

In: Social Issues

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My internship was completed with the County of San Bernardino Transitional Assistance Department (TAD). My position mainly revolved around assisting qualifying San Bernardino residence in obtaining financial, medical, and nutritional resource they need to become or to regain self sufficiency in providing for themselves and their family. Since this is my second quarter interning, I was tasked with more responsibilities which included more interaction with clients in the form of interviews in order to determine the need. Like every program there are always pros and cons. The interaction with clients and their cases allowed me to see one of the ongoing issues the County as well as state and federal government are faced with which is welfare fraud. In my internship review will explain the type of fraud that is committed, what the counties procedures are to minimize fraud, and my suggestions on how to eliminate fraud even further.

The basic definition of welfare fraud is when people collect state welfare benefits while they don't qualify for them. People do things to try to get extra money, such as claiming to have dependant children that do not exist, or not reporting income. Buying, selling, or trading benefits is also a violation of the program. Although the county has safeguards in place in an attempt to prevent this from occurring; my internship allowed me to see that these safeguards are not full proof. Welfare fraud may be committed by someone just do to their ignorance about the rules and regulations on being eligible to the benefits. But I have found during my internship that most people are aware of the rules and intentionally violate the regulations. Theses clients are called IPV’s (Intentional Program Violators).I had the opportunity to here the story of one of the clients that I served during my internship. She was coming in to apply for services, but had questions on how her previous actions would affect her application. She was not receiving benefits when the fraud was committed, but because she had been involved in illegal activity dealing with CalFresh (previously known as Food Stamps) if she would be denied. She told a story of how “back in her younger wilder days” she sold drugs to people for food stamps on occasions. It was a very common thing. She says that she charged 2 for 1 which was cheap. She explained that lots of dealers sold at 3 or 4 for 1. That is 1 dollar of stamps equaled 1 dollars worth of cash. She either used those food stamps for food or traded them for other goods and services. She said that she thought it was a little harder with todays EBT cards but she was sure that it still happens. This is a common practice, especially among the homeless population. In my internship I came across allot of homeless clients that were truly in need of the assistance and were grateful to get the assistance so they followed all the regulations as requested for fear of loosing their only means of eating. But it has been found that are also other homeless clients that are using their Calfresh benefits to pay for other habits such as drugs and alcohol. These clients were called “repeaters” by the office. These clients come into the office every month to request a replacement EBT card. These clients usually come in one to three days prior to their benefits being issued to their EBT card stating that the card was either lost or stolen. The pattern of these clients is often a sign of alcohol/drug abuse. These clients often sell there card in exchange for money or drugs/alcohol. This is a violation of the Calfresh benefit program as mentioned before. At application clients are read & given, and there “rights and responsibilities”. This document is signed under penalty and perjury, but this does little to deter the clients from this habitual abuse. Some other processes that were put into place in an attempt to minimize fraud is fingerprinting. Fingerprinting was intended to deter fraud by making sure people weren't applying for aid under multiple names or receiving it from more than one county. County offices are also linked to other county and state agencies such as IHSS(In Home Support Services), SSA( Social Security Administration), & EDD(Employment Development Department). This is in attempt to minimize the amount of unreported income in order to fraudulently obtain and benefits. Reports are run through the linking systems periodically and if income and or employment that have not been reported are discovered, it is addressed with the client to verify the validity of the report. If it is confirmed that the reports or accurate, then the clients case is re-calculated for possible over issuances. Over issuance are paid back in a variety of ways. If the clients are still eligible to benefits, those benefits are reduced by 10% each month until the balance is paid in full. If the client is no longer eligible to benefits after the re-calculation then the customer is required to make cash payment arrangements until the balance is paid in full. If these arrangements are not made, the clients tax refund can be intercepted. Customers are also required to report changes to household composition and residency. This information is important in determining eligibility of the family the amount of benefits the family is eligible too. Often time’s clients omit families in order to not have to report their income or because they are an ineligible member for legal reasons (ex: drug felon, active warrants, undocumented). Clients may also fabricate their residency. One of the regulations of receiving public services is that they have to be received in the County that you are residing in. Often times clients report addresses that they previously lived or sometime never lived in order to qualify for benefits in San Bernardino County. The counties solution to this issue is home calls and usage monitoring. A home call referral is submitted on cases with questionable household, residency, and/or income. These referrals are completed by the Fraud Investigative Unit. This department is comprised of retired police officers and detectives. The FIU Unit investigates allegations from a number of sources, including federal, state and county agencies, area businesses, concerned citizens, vendors with whom the Department contracts, law enforcement and other legal and regulatory authorities.FIU investigates Temporary Assistance cases where possible recipient fraud or misuse of funds is suspected. These cases are referred to the Unit from other areas of the Agency, as well as from the community through "Hotline" telephone complaints. When these home calls are completed the fraud investigator goes to the reported home and explains the purpose of the visit and collects the information needed in order to make a determination on the case. It is FIU's responsibility to determine if fraud does, in fact, exist, how much the overpayment amounts to and what action needs to be taken. According to TAD, Most cases are resolved administratively through voluntary or involuntary restitution or through Food Stamp Disqualification Hearings. Cases involving large dollar amount are referred to the District Attorney's Office for criminal prosecution. Usage monitoring is exactly like it sounds. The county is able to view the exact location where a transaction was made with the EBT card. If the usage is consistently outside of the county, then the client is scheduled a mandatory appointment in order to verify residency. CalFresh recipients must notify their local County Welfare Department about changes in their income or other circumstances. These changes may affect their eligibility for benefits. There are two kinds of reporting: Change and Semi-Annually. On these reports clients are asked about income, living arrangements, housing cost, household composition, child care and medical expenses. It is late if the county has not received it by the 11th. The case will be discontinued if a complete report is not received by the first business day of the following. This is often problematic for clients for several reasons. Clients often forget to answer all the questions or forget or intentionally do not report all changes accurately.
These are just a few of the many issues San Bernardino alog with counties across the country face when attempting to provide assistance to the community they serve. Although there has been an attempted to put checks and balances in place to minimize the abuse of the system, there are still some loop holes in the processes. During my internship I realized that there are alternative solutions that may be more effective in decreasing the fraud that is currently taking place. Americans support helping struggling families put food on the table, but they also want to know taxpayer dollars are spent wisely. The solutions I came up with me assist in making that possible.The first mandatory implementation would be that recipients should be thoroughly educated in two specific topics related to welfare fraud. First of all, these individuals must understand what exactly constitutes welfare fraud. Secondly, they should be given further information on how this seemingly "victimless" crime negatively affects both them and everyone else contributing to the national welfare system. Special attention should be given to educating welfare recipients as to the extreme seriousness and potential outcomes if welfare fraud is discovered. This ensures a competent consumer base, necessary for the proper operation of any large organization. Taking the time to provide such education is the first step in instituting ways to control welfare fraud. The next solution would be to address the issue of clients utilizing the benefits to support habits that are harmful to themselves as well as to the community that they live in. I believe mandatory drug testing for all recipients should be implemented. I also believe that there should be a mandatory fee for replacing EBT cards after the first replacement card is given, with the fees increasing for each replacement card. I believe both of these solutions would deter clients from selling the card if they know up front that a replacement card is going to cost them in either cash or benefits. It will also make those with ill intentions for applying for aid think twice or at least limit how long they will be able to abuse the aid that they are receiving. It would also be required to volunteer for a community organization unless the client that is applying for aid is working a minimum of 20 hours per week or going to school at least part time. This will give them a sense of giving back to the community, may possible help them obtain new skills as well as giving them an opportunity to network for possible job placement and other resources. I would also not have balances rollover. Currently if a client does not use all of the benefits on the card the benefits rollover to the next month which leaves a window of opportunity for persons that become incarcerated or detained for any length of time, to continue receiving benefits. It would also be required that clients report when they are leaving the county for more than 3 days or leaving the state for more than a week. If this information is not reported, the card would be cancelled similar to the practice of banks when it comes to debit cards. I would also provide a card that not only had the client name but also a picture. This will help allow merchants to better identify that the person using the card is the person the card belongs too. Also in addition to the picture on the card, I think it may be a better idea to create stores that cater only to CalFresh recipients. This would be good many reasons. This would allow monitoring of purchases. The store would only sale approved food items. No alcohol, cigarettes, or even food with no nutrimental value would be sold at these locations. It would also provide work for recipients. It would be mandatory to volunteer at location a certain amount of hours per month unless already employment or attending school at least half time.

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