Mahoning County launches new effort to combat welfare fraud

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio (WKBN) — The Mahoning County Department of Jobs and Family Services says that combating fraud waste and abuse is a team effort and with the help of other agencies in the county, the public and representatives with the state, it can collect more money this year than in 2013.

Last year, more than $287,000 was collected in overpaid benefits, and over the past three years, the department took in more than $1 million from over payments in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), Ohio Works First and Medicaid programs.

A portion of that money stays in the county to combat fraud waste and abuse, which is an effort officials said they are committed to in 2014.

“It’s very important because like last year, I believe Mahoning County certified $72 million in food stamps. That’s a lot of money, so say 10 percent of that is fraud, we’re talking $7 million,” said Mahoning County JFS Director Robert Bush.

“We have a minimal amount of fraud because of the way programs are administered and the way that our county eligibility, co-workers and case workers administer the benefits,” said Audrey Morales, administrator of the fraud and over payment department for Mahoning County JFS.

At a seminar on Wednesday, officials with the Mahoning County Department of Jobs and Family Services discussed ways to prevent fraud waste and abuse, including new efforts aimed at identifying inmates still collecting money while they are in custody.

“We get a daily list of people that have been arrested and if they are in more than 30 days we terminate their benefits, which is called for in the revised code and administrative code,” Bush said.

“Within the first month, we identified over 150 people that were in our jail that are collecting welfare that should not be. It’s turned out to be very successful in the short time that we started doing it,” said Mahoning County Sheriff Jerry Greene.

Bush said in a month the agency has terminated about $22,000 worth of benefits for inmates. He said those inmates are still eligible for benefits and when they get out, they can reapply.

“We’re letting the taxpayers know that our agency is diligent and we are watching over the taxpayers’ dollars. If they have any information or suspect any type of fraud, they can contact our county agency and report that information to us and we will look into it,” Morales said.

Individuals found to be committing fraud may be removed from the program, must repay any improperly obtained benefits, and may face criminal charges and jail time.

Mahoning County residents may report suspected public assistance fraud in the following ways:

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