Medina County welfare investigators are urging residents to report any and all suspected cases of fraud.
“We want more referrals coming in,” investigator Nathan Foote said. “Even if it’s just suspected, I review all of the referrals when they come in.”
Foote said he wants to get the word out because May is Public Assistance Fraud Awareness Month in Ohio.
It’s important for residents to know, Foote said, that fraud is rare in Medina County. There were about 148 confirmed cases of fraud totaling $244,048 in overpayments in 2013, out of about 10,000 people on welfare. That total includes food assistance, Medicaid, day care and cash assistance for families whose incomes are close to the poverty line.
Of the confirmed fraud cases last year, Foote said fewer than five were intentional. The “overwhelming majority” of fraud cases are what he calls “inadvertent household error,” meaning recipients failed to update Medina County Job and Family Services about their living situations.
“All that means is people are busy with their lives. Their thoughts aren’t focused on the welfare program,” he said. “That’s by far the most common situation.”
For example, Foote said a person may get a raise or a new job, or may have a family member caring for a child. All those factors could affect whether a person qualifies for assistance or how much he or she gets.
“I would say that most of the people who come here genuinely want help. We want them to get out there and get off assistance, and they want that, too,” Foote said. “Does everybody (on assistance) want that? No, but most people do.”
So far this year, investigators have confirmed 53 cases. Those whose cases are confirmed as fraud temporarily may lose eligibility for assistance and must repay what they didn’t qualify for.
Foote said fraud costs county residents regardless of whether it’s purposeful.
He said that’s why residents should report their suspicions.
“We want people to feel they make a difference,” he said. “We’ll even accept anonymous referrals.”