In response to ongoing social welfare fraud in Los Angeles County, Supervisor Michael Antonovich requested the Chief Executive Office and the Department of Public Social Services to submit a report on strategies to combat this fraud and the misuse of taxpayer dollars.
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County officials have 30 days from Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting to report back to the board with their solutions.
Los Angeles County’s social welfare system provides more generous benefits than many other districts in the state, with possibly also a greater potential for fraud.
The county has lost millions of public welfare dollars, according to a press release from Antonovich’s office.
The money is reported to have been spent in places such as Las Vegas, Hawaii, Puerto Rico and New York City and on questionable expenses including casinos, clubs and tattoo parlors, the release said.
Michelle Vega, family and children’s deputy for Antonovich, said that the county’s problem lies in a lack of accountability.
“We don’t have any assurances that the money is being spent on food or rent or necessities,” she said.
Benefits are provided on a cash card that works like a debit card, Vega said.
Other counties provide need-specific benefits.
For example, “In San Francisco they don’t give cash payouts,” said Shirley Christensen, special assistant with the Department of Public Social Services. “They actually provide room and board. They provide housing in lieu of cash.”
L.A. County also offers nine months of aid to employable participants. Three months of aid for these participants is typical among other counties and districts across the state, according to Vega.
Tony Bell, communications deputy for Antonovich, said that ultimately, the county’s current welfare system isn’t fair to taxpayers.
“We have a program that is, one, impacting taxpayers; two, not doing what it is intended to do–which is providing a stopgap between jobs; and three, is not sustainable,” he said.
Christensen said that the county currently has a large fraud department with more than 200 fraud investigators and a number of avenues for the public to provide tips.
In addition to anonymous tips, the county has a large database used to verify that information.
The most recent fraud numbers available are for June 2009. During that month, 106 social welfare fraud cases were referred for prosecution, 50 people were convicted and the county loss nearly $540,000 in fraudulent payments, according to statistics provided by the California Department of Social Services.
Christensen acknowledged that while L.A. County’s welfare program is relatively generous, the county is unique among other districts in the state.
“It really wouldn’t serve the community well to cut it back to a three month program,” she said. “Other counties don’t have has many General Relief recipients as L.A. County does.”
General Relief is a welfare program for indigent adults who don’t qualify for federal or state aid. L.A. County currently has approximately 107,000 people in the program, according to Christensen.
She said that L.A. County has developed the current program, cash payouts included, because the state allows each county to determine what best meets the needs of their population.
“Each county is actually able to establish the program that’s appropriate for their county,” she said. “…I think employment is really what L.A. County’s focus is, so that once people are employed, they’re able to get housing.”
The staff report will be submitted to the Board of Supervisors for review within 30 days of Tuesday’s meeting.
To submit welfare fraud tips anonymously, call 800-349-9970 or 800-782-7463. Call the Department of Public Social Services help line at 562-908-6603 for more information.
Do you have a news tip? Call us at (661) 298-1220, or drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Source: Santa Clarita News