Collecting Debts Through Federal Payments

The Treasury Offset Program Newsletter

If you’ve never heard it spoken, you probably have thought about it: “What’s the point of trying to collect fraud and program violation overpayments from people on public assistance?”  Simply answered, the point is what alternative exists; allow fraudsters and violators free reign to steal tax dollars?

We all should know that overpayments in public assistance can be collected through reduction in ongoing assistance grants.  But you’ve probably wondered about people who have left the program but have no discernible source of income or those who are disqualified and have no other eligible household members from which grant reduction can be imposed.  How can these debts be collected?

The Treasury Offset Program (TOP) was implemented to redirect all or a portion of any federal payments to individuals who owe states a debt arising from overpayments from a federally-funded program.  TOP focused on SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or Food Stamp) debts owed by individuals resulting from program violations or fraud.  It makes sense.  An individual who violated program rules in order to receive assistance to which he or she was otherwise ineligible to receive should not benefit further from unaltered federal payments until that debt is paid.

Through the efforts of UCOWF members, a pilot project is currently underway to expand beyond SNAP debts and include collection of other debts owed to the states arising from fraud or program violations in other public assistance programs that have a federal funding component.  Expanding the TOP is a huge step forward in helping states deal with mounting uncollected debt.

To learn read more about TOP and how it helps collect unpaid debts, click this link: Treasury Offset Program Newsletter and download the May 2012 newsletter.  It is only a two-page newsletter but it is filled with information that all program integrity professionals should know.

UCOWF Member Makes a Difference

UCOWF Member and CWFI Linda “Pete” Peterson of Washington Department of Social and Health Services submitted the following press release on one of her cases. This is yet another outstanding example of UCOWF members making a difference to the taxpayers and citizens of their states, provinces and counties throughout North America.
 
 
Great job, Pete!
 

 
U. S. Department of Justice
United States Attorney
Eastern District of Washington

 

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

 

FOR INFORMATION CONTACT:

Thomas Rice, First Assistant U.S. Attorney

(509) 353-2767

 

Illegal Immigrant Sentenced for Benefits Fraud

Yakima – Michael C. Ormsby, United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, announced that on December 12, 2011, Roman Ceniceros Mora, also known as Joseph Anderson Evans Shippentower, age 61, of Yakima, Washington, was sentenced to 96 months imprisonment for federal fraud and immigration charges. A jury in Yakima, Washington, previously found Ceniceros Mora guilty of 42 counts of fraud related to the unlawful acquisition of supplemental security income (SSI) and food stamps, a false claim of United States citizenship, and making a false statement in application for a United States passport. A separate jury convicted Ceniceros Mora of being an alien in the United States after deportation.

Roman Ceniceros Mora, a citizen of Mexico, had been living in the United States for decades following prior deportations. During that time, he repeatedly claimed citizenship in the United States by birth to American Indians in the Pacific Northwest. He also claimed to have served in the United States Marine Corps and claimed to have suffered combat related injuries during the Vietnam Era. He never served in the United States Marine Corps nor did he serve in Vietnam.

On May 25, 2010, Roman Ceniceros Mora submitted an application for a United States passport at a Post Office in Yakima, Washington. The application falsely claimed the name of Joseph Anderson Evans Shippentower, a real person. The Department of State Seattle Passport Agency subsequently detected inconsistencies in the information disclosed on the application. Further investigation by the department’s Diplomatic Security Service revealed the true nationality of Roman Ceniceros Mora, in addition to evidence indicating he was receiving SSI from the Social Security Administration and food stamps from the Washington Department of Social and Health Services. His applications for public assistance were based on his alleged injuries and claim of United States citizenship.

The Court also ordered Ceniceros Mora to serve three years of supervised release following his release from prison, but is then also subject to deportation to Mexico. Ceniceros Mora must also pay $155,431.18 in restitution to the United States and the State of Washington.

The investigation was conducted by the Department of State Diplomatic Security Service, United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement, the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General, Veterans Administration Office of Inspector General, Washington Department of Social and Health Services, and the United States Border Patrol. Additional assistance was provided by the Yakima County Sheriff’s Office and the Marine Corps University History Division. This case was prosecuted by Shawn Anderson, Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington.

11-CR-2039-WFN

Regional Mini-Conference Concept

Expanding Opportunities to Attend UCOWF Conferences

Less is more“.  You have probably heard that saying before and chuckled.  (Or maybe that thought has crossed your mind as you sat through a presentation that was too long, too detailed and too dry; I know I have!)  But with the economy impacting state and county budgets throughout North America, UCOWF is looking at ways to bolster attendance at our annual training conference and one idea that has surfaced could have merit if there is interest in it: Regional Mini-Conferences.

Our annual training conference has traditionally been a 3-1/2 day conference with between three and five tracks of workshops being given simultaneously.  The conference is designed to attract between 250 and 300 attendees and provides a wide variety of training topics within the program integrity arena.  To accommodate that number of attendees, a large hotel with large meeting rooms and a banquet facility are required.  Our traditional conference requires a substantial amount of audio-video support and an extensive number of presenters to fill the workshops.  Because of the costs associated with putting on a large annual training conference, the price of attendance must be set to cover costs and generate needed operating dollars for the organization each year.  In normal economic times, the cost is exceptionally modest compared to any other international professional organization that puts on a similar training conference of this scope.  However, we are not in normal economic times and two negative results occur: fewer members have the opportunity to attend because of lack of funding, and UCOWF takes in less operating dollars than needed to break even each year.

Regional Mini-Conferences

The idea of downsizing from an annual training conference to a series of smaller-scope conferences each year conducted throughout the US holds an intriguing solution to that problem.  Conducting a series of smaller conferences means smaller and less-expensive hotels would be needed, less audio-video support would be required, fewer presenters would be sought, and a lower conference fee would be asked (in the range of $150 -$175 per attendee).  Attendees would be away from their job for fewer days and conferences would normally be scheduled so that air travel costs would be minimized.

Here is the concept: A training conference designed for a maximum of 75 – 100 attendees would be conducted 3 times a year, offering one or two tracks of workshops over a 2-day span and located close to airport hubs in major cities of states with a solid number of potential attendees in the state or surrounding states.  These mini-conferences would be ‘no-frill’ conferences meaning no banquets and no evening events planned but would remain high-quality training focused on program integrity issues of interest and need.  The tracks would cover both investigative and collections/program integrity administration material.  A mini-conference would run from Tuesday noon to Thursday noon and CWFI exams would be administered after workshops conclude on the second day of the conference.

The regional mini-conferences would not replace the annual training conference however the required number of attendees at an annual conference to meet costs would be greatly reduced.  The annual training conference would remain a 3-1/2 day conference but pared down on the number of tracks.  The annual conference would have the banquet and evening events and would be more expensive to attend.

Training materials an attendee receives at any UCOWF training conference would be disseminated but given to each attendee on a CD or flash drive to take with him or her, nearly eliminating printing costs.  A UCOWF valise or portfolio containing the training schedule and other materials would be standard at any conference, including a mini-conference.

We Need Your Input

A poll has been set up to gauge interest or response to the concept of regional mini-conferences.  We would like all members to vote on the poll to let us know if this idea has any appeal to the membership so please vote.  If you have additional ideas or comments that you would like to submit, please send them to ucowf@comcast.net.

UCOWF Members Make a Difference

Update on UCOWF Proposal– Expanding Collections of State Debt through the Treasury Offset Program (TOP)

As part of President Obama’s commitment to crack down on improper payments and enhance program integrity, a Partnership Fund for Program Integrity Innovation was created to help States and localities find ways to save taxpayer dollars and deliver benefits more efficiently and effectively.  A “Collaborative Forum,” a group of 200+ stakeholders from Federal, state, local and the private sector representatives, was formed by the Partnership. The Forum has been working to generate and review ideas for innovate pilot projects.  To date, four proposals from the Forum have been approved for funding by OMB.

UCOWF submitted a proposal for State Debt Recovery via the Treasury Offset Program (TOP) in programs that have a federal financial component.  In January 2011, a notice was posted on the UCOWF website that our proposal was selected for funding consideration by the Forum Steering Committee.  In late May 2011, the Partnership Fund announced the pilot had been approved for funding.  The following is a summary of the Pilot:

This pilot will address debt owed in Federal funded programs in which States disburse payments – such as Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF), Medicaid, and Child Care – by matching  State-submitted debt with Federal payment information to simulate the potential to increase recoveries by authorizing TOP to offset Federal income tax refunds in more cases. The simulation will look at which state-managed programs should be referred, which payments should be offset, the potential amount of recovered funds, and the costs/benefits of this method of debt recovery. As a simulation, no actual offsets will be processed.  The evaluation will be constructed to validate matches to assess the potential for “false positives” in each of the programs.  In addition, the evaluation will explore the need for and potential efficiencies to be gained by consolidating state debt prior to submission to Treasury.  Each participating State will determine participating programs in consultation with Treasury.

UCOWF members, Denny Erickson, Sandy Smith and Laura Adkins, have been extensively involved in the Forum and other UCOWF members have provided input on several other potential proposals.   Denny Erickson has been taking the lead as UCOWF’s representative for the TOP pilot on the Forum.  He has been collecting and compiling information for Treasury and has been assisted by other UCOWF members Sandy Smith and Laura Adkins.  Seven States – Arkansas, Illinois, Kansas, North Carolina, Texas, Washington, and Wisconsin – have volunteered to participate in the pilot.  If you would like more information on the pilot project contact Denny.   His contact information is available in the UCOWF member listings.

You may also check out other pilots that have been approved at the Collaborative Forum website: http://collaborativeforumonline.com.

Please keep checking back to this website for additional information.

UCOWF Faces Challenges

What every member needs to know about the impact the current economic climate has on UCOWF

For the last three years, UCOWF has experienced dwindling revenues that have eaten away at the organization’s cash reserves.  UCOWF is a non-profit organization that maintains a small operating cash reserve.  When annual costs exceed annual revenues, they repeatedly erode that reserve.  This year the UCOWF Board of Directors were faced with making decisions that every member, business and government agency is making around the country: how to live within our means.  Please read this article all the way through to understand how the Board voted to change the way UCOWF does business in order to live within its means.

UCOWF principally earns money in two ways: dues and fees.  Membership and CWFI dues account for about 35 percent of our annual revenue.  Proceeds from conferences account for almost all of the remaining revenue (60 percent) our organization generates to operate each year.  There are small amounts that come from interest on Certificates of Deposit and CWFI Exam applications but they are virtually insignificant by comparison.

This year’s budget deficit is estimated to be over $11,000; just a little over ten percent of the cash reserves UCOWF has left.  At this rate, UCOWF is on a collision course with bankruptcy in nine years unless changes are made.  Simple economics tell us we either have to increase revenues, cut costs or both.

Most of what follows is a brief synopsis of very passionate and contentious discussions that took place during the UCOWF Board of Directors meeting in March 2011.  The discussions centered on what changes were needed to significantly reduce or reverse the annual drain from our operating reserve.

Increasing revenues to help balance the ledger

The Board of Directors discussed suggested changes in our dues and fees.  The UCOWF Regular Membership dues of $25 was the starting point of the discussion.  The $25 cost for an annual membership in UCOWF has remained unchanged for almost two decades.  Annual costs incurred by UCOWF to do business certainly haven’t remained unchanged in almost two decades and similar professional organizations require annual dues of up to ten times the amount UCOWF sets for its membership. Therefore, the Board has voted to raise the annual membership dues to $35.

Affiliate Membership dues were also discussed.  Affiliated state welfare fraud organizations pay UCOWF $5 for each of its member for an affiliate membership.  That cost has actually plummeted 60 percent from the previous charge of $12.50 per member and the Board considered the suggestion of raising the affiliation fee.  However, the state organizations are faring no better than UCOWF in most cases.  Some of our affiliated organizations are considering dissolving due to dwindling membership and lack of support for their statewide training conferences that generate their operating revenue. UCOWF has no intention of being a burden to any affiliated organization and the Board rejected the idea of trying to increase affiliate membership dues until such time as the economy, wages and prices stabilize in North America.

Our annual training conference fee was discussed and the Board agreed to a modest increase of $20 for the training conference.  The regular conference fee was set at $295 versus $275 for last year’s conference.  Costs associated with running a conference have leapt over the past few years; particularly the food and beverage costs.  That modest increase of the conference fees and membership dues will hopefully offset the increase costs associated with doing business.

Reducing costs to help balance the ledger

Over the past decade, UCOWF has done well reducing its annual operating costs.  In 2003, the Board elected to change its business model from a ‘dead tree’ operation to a web-based delivery of benefits. Economics forced UCOWF to look at greater efficencies from the costs of publishing, printing and mailing membership directories and quarterly newsletters.  Adopting the web-based delivery of member services pulled UCOWF back from the brink of insolvency.  The fact that UCOWF has lost a significant portion of its cash reserve over the last two years and still has reserves to stay afloat is proof of how significant that decision proved to be.  Unfortunately, there is no similar ‘silver bullet’ left for us to reduce costs so significantly.

This year UCOWF revamped the website as most members know.  Revamping the website happened for three reasons: to lower the cost of operating its web-based services, to provide more current and better content for members, and to provide a website where only paying members could take advantage of member benefits.  The new website lowers the annual web hosting cost of our site by almost 80 percent (from $960 to under $200) while providing more current, collaborative, relevant and interesting content.  It also provides a platform from which better services may be launched in the future.

UCOWF switched to an an on-line meeting service to conduct its Spring Board of Directors meeting; saving about $2500 in annual costs.  The process was a little ‘clunky’ at times but certainly allowed the Board to accomplish its work. Due to ongoing problems with the on-line meeting service, UCOWF switched to telephone meetings which seems to be working quite well. Of course nothing can compare to in-person meetings but we must work within our means. That telephone meeting format will be used for future Board Meetings.

UCOWF will no longer mail out membership pins, cards and certificates.  We hope to replace those with digital cards and certificates that can be printed off by the member if he or she chooses to do so. We will continue to mail out CWFI certificates.

The Board discussed ways of reducing costs that eat away at the revenues generated by conference and vendor fees.  Reduced conference attendance several years in a row kept UCOWF from generating enough to match operating costs. Two major changes resulted from cutting costs associated with our conferences: the conference fee will no longer include a one-year membership in UCOWF and the hosted lunch will no longer be conducted for the foreseeable future. These two changes will save UCOWF approximately $9K in conference-generated revenue, assuming an attendance of 150 and the cost of the hosted luncheon averaging about $35 per attendee.

The Board discussed reducing the number of members sponsored to attend the conference.  Although the program states that ‘up to ten’ members will be sponsored, the majority of the Board felt that this benefit was too important to reduce or eliminate.  The actual value of the program was over $8,000 last year ($5,000 in direct reimbursements for ten members, $2,600 in conference fees waived, $250 in conference-fee included memberships not collected, plus the cost of conference materials and the hosted food and beverage costs for those sponsored members).

The end result

With the changes that the Board has elected to make, we believe that UCOWF will be able to continue operating for at least another fifteen to twenty years without facing the threat of dissolution or mandating great increases in fees and dues.  In that fifteen to twenty years, it is inevitable that the economy will pick up and the challenges we now face because of a faltering economy, dwindling membership, and fading support for training from counties and states will be reversed and instead of losing money each year, UCOWF can begin to rebuild its operating reserves.

We always want to hear what members think and solicit their ideas about ways to make UCOWF better and stronger.  If any member has ideas or suggestions, please visit The Forum and leave your comments and ideas for improvement there.

Training Conference Sponsorship Application

Each year, the UCOWF Board selects members to sponsor for its annual UCOWF Training Conference. The Sponsorship Application can be downloaded from the Member Services Section in the Business Center Files Room and emailed to ucowfmail@gmail.com.

Sponsorships provide up to $500 in reimbursement of travel and lodging costs associated with attending the UCOWF conference. In addition, the conference registration fee is waived for sponsorship recipients.

To be eligible for a sponsorship, you must be a current UCOWF member. The UCOWF membership committee will review applications prior to the Mid-Year Board Meeting and select members for the sponsorship.  Winners will be notified after the Mid-Year Board meeting held in March/April.

February 1st is the final day to submit the application for this year’s conference.

Please note that the application has changed and now requires applicants to answer whether or not they have discussed the sponsorship with their supervisor and obtained permission to attend if selected for a sponsorship.

 

Training Conference Sponsorship Application