May is Public Assistance Fraud Awareness Month in Ohio

LISBON -May is Public Assistance Fraud Awareness Month in Ohio, and the Columbiana County Department of Job and Family Services is spreading the word that “Fraud Costs All of Us.”

According to DJFS Director Eileen Dray-Bardon, in Columbiana County, each month an average of 440 new families apply for some form of public assistance food, medical or cash.

“Our investigations have proven that 98 percent of those applying provide accurate information. But, sadly, the other 2 percent come to us with the intent to mislead and deceive us and get something they are not entitled to,” said Dray-Bardon.

That 2 percent costs us all a lot in terms of dollars of assistance improperly issued, subsequent investigatory and recovery efforts, as well as damage to the system of helping others which is called into question when the general public feels misused.

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.

In 2013, Columbiana County residents received over $25 million in food assistance alone. During the same period, over 400 reports of fraud were investigated.

Staff collected over $175,000 in repayments of benefits received improperly.

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 Columbiana County may report suspected public assistance fraud by calling the Columbiana County Department of Job and Family Services at 330-420-6523 or the hotline at 800-806-5251.