Lawmakers looking into welfare fraud issue

DHS program analyst said pay reports are often inaccurate

Lawmakers are looking into questions raised about welfare fraud in Oregon. February 12, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)
Lawmakers are looking into questions raised about welfare fraud in Oregon. February 12, 2015 (KOIN 6 News)

PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN 6) — Lawmakers are looking into questions raised about welfare fraud following a KOIN 6 News investigation.

In a KOIN 6 News investigation Tuesday, DHS program analyst Eugenia Cox said the pay reports that are provided to food stamp and cash assistance workers from DHS and the employment department are often inaccurate.

She said that could lead to the under or over-payments of benefits to people on food stamps and cash assistance.

When we asked how much money Cox thinks is wasted due to the data issue, she said, “I know how inaccurate this is. But, as far as how much DHS loses, until you actually get a number from DHS, it could be billions of dollars. We don’t know.”

Republican Senator Jackie Winters tells us she’s now requesting more details from DHS and other state agencies in order to look into the issue.

“It isn’t just a straight forward, finding a solution to the issue she has raised,” Winters said.

She added that the employment department is also playing a role.

During a hearing before the Joint Ways and Means Sub Committee on Human Services, Winters also asked DHS Director Erinn Kelley-Siel for a sheet outlining the criteria for benefit approval from all the agencies.

“They know they are going to continue to follow-up and report back to me,” Winters said.

Food stamp workers also told KOIN 6 that because DHS is using the “Lean” process to be more efficient, case workers are forced to rely on the “flawed data” as their main source of benefits verification in order to get people approved or denied within about a half-hour.

Due to constraints, they said they are not able to send a wage verification form to employers to investigate suspicious clients as DHS employees are allowed to do in other states.

They also tell me that “over-verifying” whether or not people are eligible for benefits is discouraged.

They said, “we are not allowed to pend (cases)”.

Republic Representative Andy Olson said he’d be interested in checking into that issue.

“That’s a great point and that’s a great question,” Olson said.  “I appreciate where the director is going to be more data driven, and where they are moving forward, and  are willing to improve in areas they are deficit in. This may be one of those areas, that we focus in on.”

We have also heard from additional food stamp workers who say different managers may require different constraints on employees, causing a lack of consistency.

When asked about whether or not employees could send out wage verification forms, Director Siel didn’t have an answer Tuesday.

Olson said he’d also be interested in checking into possible funding solutions that could add three additional fraud investigators to the DHS investigative unit.

Reportedly, some investigators are so swamped, they are just starting to look at cases that are two years old.

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