A recent investigation shined light on major flaws in Ohio’s food stamp program that allow maligned individuals to take advantage of this program, which is intended to help address the needs of vulnerable Ohioans. In the days when welfare checks were mailed through the U.S. Postal Service, the government encountered problems such as the high cost of processing checks and payments that had been stolen from mailboxes. Today, we use an electronic system, but the problem still exists. Ohio must ensure that new technology is being effectively used to combat and prevent ongoing waste, fraud and abuse.
Several issues highlighted in an investigation conducted by Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, which signaled the need for state government to reexamine its efforts to address fraudulent activity in our welfare programs. The first comes in the form of identifying out-of-state food stamp spending. Nearly $29 million of our state’s food stamp program was spent outside of Ohio, in places like Texas, New York and Florida. These numbers should raise concerns for Ohio's taxpayers. We need to investigate these situations on a case-by-case basis to ensure that tax dollars are going to the proper recipients.
Other concerns raised by Auditor Yost were the number of people receiving food stamps after their deaths, excessive card balances and accounts that were entirely depleted within one day of a deposit. These special cases should be identified and investigated appropriately.
In addition to the work of our state auditor, local law enforcement has been working to stop welfare abuse. Geuaga County officials have opened an investigation of a resident who received food stamp assistance even though he appears to: live in a very expensive home; own no less than four luxury automobiles; have $4 million in a Swiss bank account; and own a vacation home in the Caribbean.
Modern technology can effectively cross-check federal, state, local and commercial records to verify the identities of welfare recipients as well as determine the status of employment, residency, citizenship and income. New rules and legislation are being considered to ensure that recipients' information is cross-checked with real estate ownership, income tax records, lottery winnings and business records. With a clearer picture, state officials can determine if applicants are truly in need of support.
Illinois was the first state to leverage new technology when the state implemented recommendations by the Foundation for Government Accountability, saving taxpayers an estimated $350 million annually.
Welfare programs exist to provide assistance the most vulnerable Ohioans. Fraud hampers our ability to serve those who legitimately need our support. We owe it to these families and Ohio's taxpayers to ensure that government assistance programs are used, not abused.