Reduce fraud and help truly needy

While few recipients of public assistance defraud taxpayers, the amount of money they and those guilty of no more than simple mistakes take is significant. In Belmont County alone, the Department of Job and Family Services investigated 175 fraud complaints last year.

During a typical year, the DJFS recovered nearly $590,000 in overpayments to public assistance recipients and health care providers.

DJFS Interim Director Lisa Fijalkowski said overpayments from health care assistance programs alone are significant. During the last quarter of 2013, her agency collected $168,634 in overpayments, she explained last week.

Sometimes, simple oversights are to blame. People may forget to report changes in their circumstances that make them ineligible for public assistance or reduce the amount for which they qualify.

But there also are cases of people collecting benefits while they are employed or selling food stamps, Fijalkowski added.

Her agency seems to do a good job of investigating reports of fraud and recovering taxpayers’ money.

Public assistance agencies in Ohio have come a long way during the past few years. At one time, fraud was rampant. As recently as 2007, the state itself estimated 21 percent of payments through the Temporary Aid for Needy Families program were improper.

Reports such as Fijalkowski’s make it clear a major problem still exists. State officials should examine initiatives to curb fraud and other overpayments in public assistance programs. If more needs to be done to curb the problem, perhaps with more investigators, the state should do what is necessary to reduce fraud and overpayment errors. After all, every dollar paid to an undeserving public assistance recipient is a dollar that could be used to help the truly needy.