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July 2nd, 2014

This Week in Orange County 7-2-14

Orange County Executive Steven Neuhaus

The slow recovery from the financial crisis has left many in our county and state struggling. The Great Recession has reduced job prospects for working families and cut hours and wages for others. A social safety net, therefore, is necessary not just during an economic downturn, but justifiable for those looking for a hand up rather than a handout. As a father of two with another child on the way, I understand the pressures faced by families struggling to make ends meet. However, illegally soliciting public assistance not only hurts hardworking taxpayers, it reduces the funds available for the truly needy. Welfare fraud hurts the most vulnerable; that’s why I’ve made preventing fraud and prosecuting cheats a centerpiece of my administration.

According to our Department of Social Services, one in four Orange County residents is currently on welfare, and welfare cheats drain the public coffers for those who would otherwise need it. According to a US Conference of Mayors report released this month, the Poughkeepsie-Newburgh region – a statistical area measured as a whole by the federal government – had the worst economic growth last year among the largest metropolitan areas in the country. We have pockets of impoverished communities in our midst that may be more endemic than any other in the country: Why would we allow a few to dictate public assistance terms for others by abusing the system?

On June 26 I was joined by Orange County District Attorney David M. Hoovler, Sheriff Carl DuBois, and Acting Department of Social Services Commissioner Anne Caldwell to announce 36 arrests of alleged welfare fraudsters around Orange County. Suspects have been charged with defrauding Medicaid, public assistance, food stamps, and daycare programs. The total savings to taxpayers from the bust is estimated at over $337,000. At the press conference I also announced the creation of an interagency welfare-fraud-prevention unit to target and prosecute individuals who draw public benefits while failing to report income or otherwise defraud taxpayers.

The enforcement action was the result of the collaborative efforts of the Orange County Department of Social Services Investigations Unit, the Sheriff’s Office, and the District Attorney’s Office. During the investigation of these cases, Department of Social Services staff reviewed files of public assistance recipients suspected of fraud, interviewed recipients, and forwarded cases to the Sheriff’s Office and District Attorney’s Office for further investigation. Investigators from the District Attorney’s Office and Sheriff’s Office interviewed many of those recipients before arresting them.

Of the $337,682.99 in public assistance benefits alleged to have been fraudulently obtained by defendants in this enforcement action, $131,777.54 was paid to recipients for Day Care Benefits that were issued as a result of fraudulent statements made by those recipients and others acting in concert with them. Another $81,374 was paid to those who fraudulently obtained Supplemental Nutritional Assistant Payments (SNAP), commonly referred to as "food stamps." It is alleged that $62,341.17 in interim Public Assistance Benefits, which was distributed to recipients through debit cards, was fraudulently obtained. These investigations revealed that $62,190.28 in fraudulent Medicaid payments were paid to these defendants.

The bottom line is that hardworking taxpayers deserve better than to have their money go to individuals abusing our social services system. Last Thursday’s announcement was only the beginning. My administration will aggressively pursue fraud cases from Middletown to Monroe, Woodbury to Wallkill, and everywhere in between. By creating a dedicated fraud unit – at no additional expected cost to the taxpayers – we can prioritize resources without sacrificing public safety somewhere else and help reduce next year’s nearly $60 million budget gap. For the most vulnerable of our society, help is on the way.

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