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Sheriff's Corner: Preventing fraud in public assistance

The nature of law enforcement in general is often reactive. Law enforcement responds to reports and takes action when something happens or a crime is committed. We are often asked about what we can do to make law enforcement and our interaction w...

The nature of law enforcement in general is often reactive. Law enforcement responds to reports and takes action when something happens or a crime is committed. We are often asked about what we can do to make law enforcement and our interaction with the citizens that we serve more proactive in nature. Proactive policing is the practice of deterring criminal activity by showing police presence and engaging the public to learn their concerns, thereby preventing crime from taking place in the first place. In contrast, responding to a complaint after a crime has been committed is reactive policing. One proactive initiative that the sheriff's office is involved in is the Fraud Prevention Program.

Minnesota Statute 256.983 obligates the Minnesota Department of Human Services to develop a Fraud Prevention Investigation Program. Currently, the state has 38 investigators for 74 counties, with some serving multiple counties. Cass County Fraud Prevention Program is part of a region that includes Cass, Todd, Wadena and Hubbard Counties. The Cass County Sheriff's Office has recently redesigned our approach to this area and has assigned one full-time deputy to the Fraud Prevention Program and criminal investigations that occur from this activity. Cass County received an $80,000 Minnesota Department of Human Services grant to operate a regional social services fraud prevention program for Cass, Hubbard, Todd and Wadena Counties from July, 2013, through June 30, 2015. This program was very successful and the grant was continued.

The Fraud Prevention Investigation program is a cooperative program with cooperation between the Cass County Sheriff's Office and Health Human and Veteran Service. This program is just one of many county multi-agency cooperative programs, which work together for efficiency and effectiveness towards a common goal. The goal of the program strives to quickly resolve issues of questionable eligibility for public assistance. Eligibility workers refer potentially fraudulent applications and open cases for investigation. The investigator also receives referrals from the general public or other agencies that may see fraudulent activity occurring. The fraud program depends on the eligibility worker and the fraud investigator working together to prevent and reduce recipient fraud in the state's cash, child care, health care and food programs. The fraud prevention program is set up to be a cost neutral program. This means the program recovers enough money to pay for the program.

Welfare fraud comes in many forms such as the recipient may have been untruthful on their application or failed to report if they started a new job or they are working for cash. They may have also sold their EBT card or may be receiving assistance from two different jurisdictions. Fraud may also occur if the person failed to report a change in the household composition. State and county staff work together to prevent and reduce recipient fraud in the state's cash, child care, health care and food programs.

The penalties that result from the investigation may include a warning or they may be disqualified from receiving future benefits for a period of one year to a lifetime. The person can be required to pay back the benefits he or she received but wasn't entitled to, even if it's tens of thousands of dollars. Future benefits also can be reduced. Some welfare fraud cases rise to the felony theft level and require involvement of the criminal justice system.

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Our goal in Cass County is to focus on fraud prevention. There are many people who legitimately need assistance and fraud prevention assures that there are funds available to help those in need. State and federal government agencies also work together in preventing and prosecuting these cases.

By utilizing cooperation between agencies and counties and taking a proactive approach to this program, we can prevent crimes or potential theft from happening and have more services to provide to those in need.

If you have specific questions that you would like answered in this column or in person, please feel free to contact me anytime using one of the following methods: by email at tom.burch@co.cass.mn.us ; by phone at 218-547-1424 or 800-450-2677; or by mail or in person at the Cass County Sheriff's Office, 303 Minnesota Ave. W, P.O. Box No. 1119, Walker, MN, 56484.

Related Topics: CASS COUNTY
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