To paraphrase Simon Sinek, “It all starts with the WHY.”
Program Integrity efforts relating to public assistance programs are often misconstrued as being “anti-client.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. So WHY do welfare investigators care so much about efforts to combat waste, fraud, and abuse?
1) Stewardship of the Programs – Federal programs are intended to serve our most vulnerable and needy citizens. To remain effective and properly funded by our elected officials, the public must have full confidence in the effective administration of these programs. Countless documented incidents and media stories of the “welfare queen,” organized criminal fraud rings, identity theft, slow response to administrative rules, outdated technologies, funding terrorism allegations, and connections to ineligible recipients serve to erode public support and assurance. Therefore, it is imperative that State and Federal agencies work collaboratively to aggressively detect, prevent, and pursue individuals and businesses responsible for these acts. Welfare fraud investigators CARE about these programs, are committed to helping these needy recipients, and devoted to stopping those who prey upon it/them.
2) Stewardship of Taxpayer Funds – According to the FFY 2017 budget, approximately $70 billion was spent on food stamps (Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program, or SNAP). This translates into nearly six of our newest modern Nimitz class nuclear aircraft carriers (CVN 78, USS General Ford). The Navy currently has only 10 such carriers in operation to protect the USA and its allies. Or if you prefer, that’s 35 B-2 bombers… only 20 exist today. For another perspective, the annual SNAP budget is the equivalent of the annual budget for the Department of Homeland Security, the FBI, the US Marshals, Alcohol Tobacco & Firearms, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, and the DEA. Combined. With the expansion of public assistance rolls over the last decade and the lack of resources to combat waste fraud and abuse (see investigator to household statistics), the responsibility to limit taxpayer fund abuse through prevention efforts (vs “pay and chase”) has never been more important. Welfare fraud investigators are also taxpayers, and CARE about the sensible protections to safeguard limited state and federal resources.
3) Impact Upon Criminal Activity – Public assistance fraud is not a victimless crime. In fact, it’s more often than not, associated with other criminal activity. Examples include, but are not limited to, identity theft (obtained or through the hijacking of legitimate recipient funds), drugs, firearms, human trafficking, and yes, even terrorism. Current federal regulations vigorously protect the identities of individual recipients (rightly so), but the unintended consequence of this results in the “Silo Effect” – the prevention of sharing data to combat crimes and protect national security, particularly in outdated regulations (such as7 CFR 272.1(c)). Currently, regulations prevent/hinder the disclosure of information to law enforcement, even in the event of public safety, exigent circumstances, and national security. Welfare fraud investigators CARE about their communities and reducing crime; often left to fight this battle alone.
4) Impact Upon Children – Child abuse is one area that every state focuses significant resources towards; Yet, annually we as a nation still have over 4 million reports of child neglect by malnutrition. In fact, child neglect encompasses roughly ¾ of child abuse cases. We’ve seen the ugly results of this. By no means do I suggest child abuse is an issue just for our nation’s poor or that our recipients are the only ones committing these acts. When food bank activity has hit unprecedented levels, SNAP assistance and nutritional education is readily available, and efforts are focused on moving families back to economic self-sufficiency… why is this still happening? Unfortunately, and all too often, it’s “unfit” parents or custodians abusing public assistance and trafficking their benefits to supplement their addictions. Yes, sometimes it may be to pay for utilities (but then how are they eating?!) We as a nation can better protect our future generations if child protection personnel are readily equipped with public assistance fraud information. It may not be the“red flag” that child abuse/neglect is occurring, but every child investigator should know if welfare fraud is a factor in the household. In fact, if we as welfare fraud investigators can do a better job with early detection of welfare fraud and SNAP trafficking (through proper staffing, funding, equipment, tools, training, technologies), we may be able to help prevent the abuse and neglect that results in the tragic death of our children. By working together, we can save lives through early detection and prevention of public assistance fraud. Welfare fraud investigators CARE about the program recipients, and particularly the children.
I hope YOU care as much as they do. There’s too much at stake not to be passionate about the mission of welfare fraud investigators and their efforts at combating waste, fraud, and abuse in our public assistance programs!
Andrew McClenahan, UCOWF Board Director