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Orleans will step up welfare fraud investigations

By Tom Rivers, Editor Posted 26 June 2013 at 12:00 am

ALBION – Orleans County has stepped up its welfare fraud investigations in recent years and is poised to double those efforts.

“We can’t ignore it,” Legislature Chairman David Callard said about welfare fraud. “We have to deal with it. People need to know in Orleans County that we’re serious about it.”

The county has been increasing the recovered dollars in welfare fraud and “avoidance,” welfare that is sought but isn’t approved because the applicants aren’t eligible for the benefits, said Tom Kuryla, the Department of Social Services commissioner.

In 2009, the county recovered $37,000 in welfare fraud, and prevented $352,000 in benefits from going to people who weren’t eligible for welfare, he said.

The numbers have steadily increased since then. In 2010, there was $40,000 recovered and $1,245,000 prevented. In 2011, $76,000 was recovered with DSS avoiding $1,358,000 in ineligible benefits, Kuryla told legislators today.

Last year, the lone welfare fraud investigator recovered $85,000 and DSS prevented another $1,598,000 in ineligible benefits.

Kuryla said the DSS’s lone fraud investigator has 50 caseloads and responds to another 40 to 50 inquiries a month. That is a heavy caseload, Kuryla told legislators.

The Legislature approved his request to not fill the position of a recently retired child support specialist, and instead hire a second fraud investigator. District Attorney Joe Cardone also endorsed a second fraud investigator.

“It would more than pay for itself,” he said about the position.

He noted the recent case of a woman who accessed $40,000 in childcare benefits when she didn’t send her child to daycare, instead keeping the money for herself. The alleged crime was detected and she was charged with fraud.

Kuryla said DSS will be better able to investigate people on welfare long-term, who may be claiming a disability is preventing them from working. DSS also wants to check people using emergency housing assistance in hotels. Those people may not be aggressively pursuing other less costly housing.

Kuryla doesn’t begrudge needy people from accepting welfare on a temporary basis, but he said fraud “is breaking the backs of taxpayers.”