May is Public Assistance Fraud Awareness Month in Ohio, and the Ottawa County Department of Job and Family Services is spreading the word that “Fraud Costs All of Us.”
“The programs and services that we offer provide a safety net to those in need. Cases of fraud jeopardize that safety net and tend to skew the public’s perception of the need that truly exists in every community,” says Stephanie Kowal, Director of the county agency.
In 2013, the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services disbursed about $3 billion in SNAP food assistance, $300 million in OhioWorks First cash assistance, $600 million in child care subsidies and $1.8 billion in state and federal unemployment compensation. Individuals who mislead caseworkers or lie on an application for benefits are believed to account for a small percentage of the funding disbursed, but the department takes even small fraud cases very seriously.
“When the agency suspects an individual has received benefits to which they were not entitled, we turn things over to our internal investigator,” explains Kowal. “We receive fraud reports at the agency, and they can be anonymous. We also cross-check information, and look for irregular patterns in cases. When something is suspicious, an investigation is completed and repayment options are given to individuals. In 2013, Ottawa County Department of Job and Family Services recovered $56,057 in benefits from individuals who received them in error.”
Suspected fraud may involve SNAP Food Assistance retailers or recipients, Medicaid providers or recipients, OWF Cash Assistance recipients, Child Care providers or recipients, or Unemployment Compensation recipients. Individuals found to be committing fraud are removed from the program, must repay any improperly obtained benefits, and may face criminal charges and jail time. Residents of Ottawa County may report suspected public assistance fraud, anonymously, by calling the Ottawa County Department of Job and Family Services at 1-800-665-1677. Reports may also be submitted online at www.jfs.ohio.gov/fraud.