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Vt. auditor's report reveals benefit fraud - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. auditor's report reveals benefit fraud

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BURLINGTON, Vt. -

The state auditor's report issued Wednesday reveals Vermont made more than 1,000 payments for improper welfare claims, amounting to more than $1.8 million in improper payments over the last three years.

"If people are cheating and taking money from the system, then the people who deserve it, who are straight, aren't getting those funds," said Doug Hoffer, D/P-Vt. Auditor.

Hoffer says the state needs to do a better job tracking reported fraud claims. He says it's also likely there are more fraudulent claims the state did not identify, given two programs had no reports. But his biggest suggestion is that the Department for Children and Families use every tool at its disposal to clawback payments made to fraudsters.

"On its face, that's a good idea," said Sean Brown, the deputy commissioner of the Economic Services Division.

Spokespeople for DCF say they're committed to making changes, but sometimes collecting a debt runs counter to their mission, especially if they want to avoid hurting children in a household that received more than it should have.

Of the random sample of cases the auditor examined, cheats only repaid 18 percent of the ill-gotten funds. In one case, a Vermonter got $23,000 more than they should have and agreed to pay $25 a month for 75 years.

"When you're looking at recouping funds, their ability to repay is limited to begin with and I think that that's just a reality of what the situation we're looking at," Brown said.

"I'm very sympathetic, I'm grateful that such compassionate professionals are looking out for their beneficiaries. However, these are not just regular folks, they're folks who have been determined to have cheated the state," Hoffer said.

Spokespeople for DCF say they do a good job preventing and tracking down fraud, and say there may be $1.8 million in fraud, but that's out of $600 million-plus they oversaw over the three years in question-- a fraud rate of 0.28.

"Which is extremely low when you look at it compared to what some believe to be the national average around 2.6 percent," Brown said.

DCF administrators have agreed with some of the auditor's recommendations. But many will require cash the department doesn't have or will only be tackled after higher priority items already pending.

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