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Pennsylvania sets record in prevention

December 21, 2000

Pennsylvania sets record in prevention



By STACEY DANZUSO / Staff Writer, Chambersburg


HARRISBURG, Pa. - The Pennsylvania Inspector General's Office was able to collect or prevent a record-breaking $142 million in welfare fraud last year, including nearly $1 million in Franklin County.

The Inspector General's Office released the figures for fiscal year 1999-2000 in its annual welfare-fraud report this month, said W. Scott Foster, spokesman for the office that investigates fraud and misconduct in state government programs.

Nearly $91 million of the figure was fraudulent or undeserved benefits that were detected before the money was sent out, Foster said.

This is an increase of $14 million over the previous fiscal year, according to Inspector General Robert H. DeSousa.

The Commonwealth recovered millions more from people who either were determined to be ineligible for assistance or who had a resource to repay the state.

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The office investigated 34,000 welfare applications filed with the Department of Public Welfare that were suspicious, Foster said.

The office then filed 1,350 private criminal complaints against the recipients for fraud by unlawfully obtaining welfare, he said.

"In Franklin County, we filed six cases alleging unlawful receipt of benefits to the tune of more than $41,000," Foster said.

In addition, through prevention and detection, investigators were able to prevent more than $850,000 from being fraudulently paid out in Franklin County, Foster said.

Overall, this represents a record-breaking year for the office and represents a 90 percent increase in prevention and collection since the Inspector General's Office first took over investigating frauds in 1994, Foster said.

"The goal is basically to prevent fraud from happening. The money, once recovered, goes back to the Department of Public Welfare," Foster said.

But as welfare reform puts more people to work and changes the way the welfare system works, the Office of Inspector General is undertaking initiatives to detect new types of fraud.

A leading misuse of welfare is food-stamp trafficking, according to a statement from the Inspector General' office.

Gov. Tom Ridge urged everyone to get involved in the fight against welfare fraud.

"Everyone can help fight welfare fraud. Last year, nearly 6,000 Pennsylvanians picked up the phone and called the Welfare Fraud Tipline when they suspected someone was committing welfare fraud. I encourage others to do the same," Ridge said in a statement.

Foster also asked Pennsylvania residents to contact the Inspector General if they suspect someone they know is illegally receiving welfare.

"We take all allegations seriously, and we took in more than 6,000 calls in the state suspecting someone of committing welfare fraud," Foster said.

To report suspected welfare fraud, call 800-932-0582. To report suspected fraud in other government programs, call 877-888-7927.

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