State investigators prevented nearly $88 million of welfare fraud

Mother shopping at the grocery store

An Allegheny County resident falsified her employment status and received $14,950 in food stamp benefits and $1,394 in home heating benefits over a three-and-a-half year period. She was sentenced to five years’ probation in September 2014 and ordered to pay back the benefits she received.

Another Allegheny County resident improperly received more than $24,000 of subsidized child care over a six-year period. That person was sentenced to 60 days in jail.

Those are just a couple of the nearly 26,000 investigations conducted by the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General [OIG] during the 2014-15 fiscal year. The office prevented nearly $88 million of fraud, according to its most recent annual report, released Thursday.

“I applaud the OIG’s efforts and accomplishments listed in this report.” Gov. Tom Wolf said in a press release. “The OIG is a vital tool in achieving this administration’s goal of efficiency, accountability and transparency.”

The OIG’s Bureau of Fraud Prevention and Prosecution investigates fraud in programs from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Those programs include Temporary Aid to Needy Families, also known as welfare; Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps; and LIHEAP, the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program, which helps low-income households pay their heating bill.

The OIG received more than 10,000 calls during the fiscal year on its welfare fraud tipline, more than 6,000 tips on its website and 423 via mail.

Their office filed 833 criminal complaints against people who unlawfully obtained welfare benefits and recovered $3.7 million in restitution.

The OIG Bureau of Special Investigations also looked at cases of malfeasance by state employees, including a  state employee that used public time and resources to run a personal business.

Another state employee accessed the home heating grant program’s database to fraudulently receive benefits under that program.

“We will continue to be persistent in our investigative pursuits to ensure that state departments and programs meet the highest standards of accountability and integrity,” Inspector General Grayling Williams said in a press release.

Reach Eric Holmberg at 412-315-0266 or at eholmberg@publicsource.org. Follow him on Twitter @holmberges.