As your county executive, I have done my best to listen and respond to the genuine concerns voiced by Rockland County taxpayers on hundreds of issues. Chief among these concerns is the continued abuse of a system that was designed to provide temporary aid to the needy, but has grown into a generational lifestyle for many. It’s called welfare.
The generosity and kindness of our residents is well known. When it comes to lending a helping hand, our community does not hesitate. But, like thousands of my neighbors, I grew tired of my tax dollars being spent by scammers who simply don’t need public assistance. During my first weeks in office, I immediately directed our Department of Social Services to redouble its efforts to identify and eliminate all forms of fraud and abuse in welfare programs, such as Medicaid and food stamp assistance. I’m pleased to report the hard work of our DSS investigators has yielded impressive results.
By tightening the review process for welfare applicants, we’re now catching suspicious responses that could signal potential abuse. Between January 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015, our Front End Detection System denied 216 new applications due to questionable information. “Red flags” were identified by studying existing patterns of welfare fraud by clients already in the system, and then applying the information to new applicants with the help of computers and old-fashioned investigative techniques – from interviewing applicants to confirming bank documents, credit reports, and in some cases, making home visits.
Our dedicated DSS investigators have also targeted hundreds of cheats already on the public dole. More than 250 active assistance cases were either closed or had their benefits reduced in 2014 and 2015, resulting in $2.3 million in cost-avoidance. As for restitution, DSS recovered more than $557,000 in overpayments during the 21-month period ending September 30th.
While not new, the Front End fraud-detection system is now being used, with a renewed focus, in my administration’s efforts to fight waste, abuse and fraud in our county and state welfare support systems. Rockland County has some of the highest benefit levels in the country. We cannot sit idle and watch those who abuse our system continue to hurt not only taxpayers, but the integrity of the programs intended to help the needy.
Along with DSS Commissioner Susan Sherwood and District Attorney Tom Zugibe, my administration is working to make sure that people who steal from the system are brought to justice, protecting Rockland County taxpayers, as well as the limited pool of resources available to help our most vulnerable neighbors. We simply cannot afford to let ourcounty‘s safety net become a hammock. I won’t let it happen.