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October 4, 2010 - 9:08pm

DSS chief briefs legislators on fraud investigations

dss_kirkpatrick.jpg

One thing you need to know about social services and fraud is that just because a person isn't living up to your standards doesn't mean that person is getting public assistance illegally.

The lady could be on her sixth boyfriend in 10 months. She could be pregnant with her seventh son. The man down the road could be a drunk or a pack rat. Both husband and wife could sit on the front porch all day smoking Senecas, or hit the corner deli every day to buy scratchers.

None of that constitutes evidence of fraud, according to Genesee County Social Services Commissioner Eileen Kirkpatrick.

Kirkpatrick spoke with the Human Services Committee today after a legislator raised questions about how DSS handles fraud cases.

While it's the responsibility of all DSS staff members to be on the look out for evidence of fraud, the department employs two full-time fraud investigators (the second position was created in 2006).

And those two investigators are kept busy.

Every day, DSS accepts 16 new applications for public assistance, and every one of them is a potential fraud case.

Of course, of the thousands of cases DSS handles every year, only a relatively few ever reach the stage of an actual fraud investigation.

In 2008, the two investigators formally investigated 342 cases, and there were 582 investigations in 2009.

"When you think about the number of cases we handle in our department, when you think about the thousands of cases, the number of complaints we investigate are really minuscule compared to what we are really doing," Kirkpatrick said.

A fraud investigation can either begin with a complaint, or during the initial application process, Kirpatrick said.

During the interview process, DSS workers look for inconsistencies, using a standardized set of "red flags": Has the applicant recently moved into the county; no documentation; primary tenant with no utility bills; landlord does not verify household composition; or an invalid social security number, for example.

Tips might come from law enforcement, other social services departments, friends, neighbors or even current welfare recipients.

"Clients are famous for ratting on other clients," Kirkpatrick said. "It's usually in defense of their own status. 'If you think what I'm doing is bad, how about ...'" motioning as if pointing to another person.

The screening process generally catches people coming into the county just looking for an easy way to get on public assistance, she said.

"People don't find it that easy to just come in and get on assistance in our department," Kirkpatrick said. "If they need help, we're going to help them, but they're going to have to do what they need to do to complete the program."

Which usually means looking for work, getting job-placement assistance, applying for job training and working to get off of public aid.

Contrary to what some may think or wish, evidence of drug abuse doesn't disqualify a person for public assistance, but all applicants are screened for substance abuse. If abuse is suspected, the person is referred to GCASA.

From time to time, a person makes it through the screening process when they shouldn't -- or gets on public assistance and then later starts earning money not originally reported.

For example, a person might start a new business and not report the income.

It's amazing, Kirkpatrick said, what a good Google search might find about a person's attempts to earn disqualifying income. Investigators also check Facebook and Twitter.

And even comments left on The Batavian -- and there have been examples, Kirkpatrick told legislators, of DSS recipients leaving comments on The Batavian that have led to investigations.

One gentleman on assistance set up a web page for his home business, complete with numerous pictures of his work, and was earning a good living making an undisclosed item. When his entreprenuerism was discovered, DSS shut off his assistance.

When a suspected case of fraud is found, assistance is terminated, but recipients have a right to appeal. During the appeal process, payments continue.

While all tips are welcome -- Kirkpatrick reiterated near the end of the meeting -- that just because a woman's millionaire boyfriend moves in, doesn't mean she is no longer eligible for medicaid. That's not fraud, she said. She could even continue to get food stamps if the boyfriend swore he bought and cooked his own food.

It's also not fraud to fail to comply with DSS rules. Rules violations could jeopardize benefits, but is not considered fraud.

Fraud is an intentional attempt to obtain benefits to which the recipient is not entitled, Kirkpatrick said.

wayne bell
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Close some of the loopholes such as a boyfriend living at a home that is being paid for through Social Services, and that person is not being made to look for a job. I realize that he may not be the husband or a father to any of the kids in the home but he is getting the "benefits" of DSS. If a person is living in a home that is being assistted by DSS then they should be counted as a member of the household and be subjected to all the work search rules. One other thing that I feel needs to be addressed is that a person can purchase all the pop,chips and candy they want with the food stamp card but not the personal grooming items needed to go look for a job, With the technology that the cash registars in the local food stores, the "junk" items could be deleted and items such as soap, shampoo, deoderant and then maybe the stuff needed for laundry could be purchased with the card. The card could then be re-named the house needs card. I do realize that there are people who need assistance but it should be an assist not a way of life.
JON JONES
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Nice job wayne you tell it like it is, the problem is these DSS state workers cant do there jobs all there worried about is collecting a pay check. Thats the problem with this state!
Thomas Mooney
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It may not be fraud but its not right either . Many of those circumstances that do not count as fraud nor fair to avereage working individule . How about all the people collecting DSS and picking up junk and selling it. Having the ability to fix broken (side of the raod )lawn mowers and making some extra change is fraud .Corner of Summit and Washington is good example , the whole house is on DSS but they have regular lawn sales with fixed mowers and other things that have been salvaged . This guy has some ability and could be useful to employer's but would rather collect that state check amd pocket the extra money he make s off junk at the taxpayers exspense .One example of many happening under DSS nose . I am sure they know about it but they can't bust the people who are givingthem a job either . No DSS benefite equal no DSS staff . There needs to be better checks and balances in place .
Frank Bartholomew
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Wayne, I agree, and one of my biggest pet peeves is there is no drug or alcohol testing of those on public assistance. Every job I have interest in, or applied to, requires drug testing criteria before hiring. Why not drug test when applying for public assistance? Probably because the ACLU would have a coniption. You don't see the ACLU fighting about drug testing in the workplace, and if public assistance is your meal ticket, you should be tested. As a taxpayer, I'm sick of giving out free rides with no accountability. Lets say you're on PA, and you use drugs and alcohol, you go out and apply for jobs, and fail the drug test. The results of drug testing are confidential, so DSS has no idea why you were not hired,but think you are seeking gainful employment, thus justifying another round of taxpayer funded freebies.
Lori Silvernail
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Regarding Jon's comment above (...the problem is these DSS state workers cant do there jobs all there worried about is collecting a pay check. Thats the problem with this state!) First of all, they are County workers, not State. I worked there for a number of years, and my response to you is that your comments are ignorant. It is a thankless job, and one that requires following regulations like you have never seen. The civil service tests are open to the public...go take one so you too, can sit back on your butt and just "collect a paycheck." But I suppose there is some reason you won't, it's easier to speculate and accuse people falsly of heinous actions.
Frank Bartholomew
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Lori, ignorant is kind of harsh, but you are right about regs., it ties the hands of the workers, almost to a point of "why bother". The system needs an overhaul, like Wayne said,"close the loopholes", and put some teeth into the investigators job. Some on PA know the rules better than those who enforce them, and walk that fine line.Like the article demonstrates, you can accuse all you want, but you will always have to prove it to take any actions.
Bea McManis
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Many senior citizens get by with food stamps. Are you suggesting that senior citizens, who are on food stamps, be subject to random drug tests? That should really raise red flags considering many of them are taking medication as well. It would bring down the number of people on assistance if the seniors are eliminated because of medication. Sounds like a perfect plan.
Lori Silvernail
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Frank, to say that county workers are only worried about collecting a paycheck is ignorant, and I'll stand by my post. Without working there, Jon has no true knowledge of why people work there, or what their actual jobs entail. Just a little backstory...my Mom and I both worked there, she retiring from her job and I left after around 11 years. During the blizzard of '77, workers from the city of Batavia who couldn't drive to the office, were taken to work via snowmobile in order to expedite food stamps for the needy families. Workers went out of their way to get to work in order to provide for the less fortunate. It's only one example.
Frank Bartholomew
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Bea, you know what group I'm referring to, I'm talking about able bodied people who have to rely on the taxpayers to get by.

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