Not everyone who applies for assistance is in need, nor are all contractors doing the right thing, so fraud and public assistance is something everyone should be aware of when they put in an application.
Fraud and Individuals
Unfortunately, not everyone who applies for and receives public assistance is actually qualified or even in need of that aid. Public assistance includes, but is not limited to:
- Housing assistance, such as Section 8 or other U.S. Dept. of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) programs
- Food assistance, such as SNAP (formerly the food stamp program) or WIC (Women, Infants, and Children)
- Disaster relief, such as monies from FEMA for natural disasters like earthquakes, hurricanes or flooding
- Medicaid, which is government aid for those who have low-income and cannot pay their medical bills
People commit fraud against these agencies in a number of ways. They may lie about their income, their financial or insurance situation, household size, current address and more. Purposely omitting information is also considered fraud, so be sure to tell the whole truth when filling out applications for public assistance.
Groups and Fraud
Sometimes, a group who is part of public assistance programs can take advantage of individuals who are in need of assistance or the agency overseeing the program. For example, some doctors will bill Medicaid for services not rendered to patients. Property owners who do not comply with the safety standards of Section 8 are violating both the tenant rites and those set out by DHS and HUD.
Victims of this fraud should report it to the overseeing agency immediately. If you are not a victim but still suspect a group of fraud, whether you are an employee or a concerned citizen, it is still important that you report your suspicions. Do not report someone or a group simply because you are angry with them or do not care for someone.
Public Assistance Fraud Consequences
Program participants who are guilty of fraud do so knowingly. Those who make a simple mistake may still be liable for returning any monies they were not qualified to receive to the agencies, even if they do not face charges.
Once a complaint is received by an agency or abuse is suspected, an investigation is opened. The investigation often requires meetings with individuals, program administrators, and contractors involved in the situation. Friends, family members and even employers may be interviewed as part of the investigation. Complying with the investigation and providing proof that fraud was not committed is the best way to keep the problem from the consequences listed below:
- Criminal charges in state and/or federal court
- Civil charges
- Jail time
- Fines, including court costs and repayment of monies taken
- Disqualification or ban on future public assistance
The state and federal governments take fraud and public assistance very seriously. Funds are limited and many people need help. Defrauding the programs means that those who deserve help may not receive it and that taxpayer and donated dollars were wasted. Employees or contractors, such as housing contractors, who defraud the agencies are often fired and face criminal and/or civil charges as well.
Even if the fraud is occurring at a public assistance center that is not government-based, such as a local food pantry at a church, the persons committing the fraud may still face consequences. Consequences depend on local laws and whether the group pursues any action against the offending individual(s).
Report Fraud and Public Assistance
The government and its agencies rely on both program participants and concerned citizens to report abuses and fraud of public assistance programs. To report fraud, contact your local DHS, police department or the agency where you believe the fraud was committed. Visit these websites for more helpful contact information regarding fraud:
- HUD Fraud, Waste, and Abuse Complaints
- State SNAP Information/Hotline Numbers
- FEMA Fraud, Waste and Abuse Contacts
- How to Report Suspected Medicaid Fraud
While most people involved in public assistance programs are honest people just looking for some help, there are always a few who are willing to take advantage of others. Fraud and public assistance needs to be reported in order to keep the programs running successfully.