Inspector general: Heroin epidemic fueling welfare fraud

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) – Since the beginning of this year, the Office of Inspector General has charged more than 250 Pennsylvanians with welfare fraud. Investigators say more than $1.5 million in funds were misused.

“All we’ve simply tried to do is look under certain areas to focus on certain types of things that haven’t been looked at in the past,” Inspector General Bruce Beemer said.

People have been arrested for misusing medical assistance, cash assistance, subsidized day care, and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Beemer says lately, his office is fighting the heroin epidemic. He says they have seen an increase in people selling their SNAP benefits.

“They’re selling it for $50, giving the person their PIN,” he said. “They get $50 in cash, they’re using that $50 to purchase heroin or other types of narcotics. The people that are oftentimes getting hurt are children and others, where that money is supposed to be going.”

In April, more than $180,000 in SNAP benefits were misused. Beemer says last fiscal year, investigators uncovered more than $90 million of attempted welfare fraud.

“We’re making sure that the people who are getting that assistance are the ones that really deserve it under the law,” he said.

Diane Barber is the executive director of the Pennsylvania Child Care Association. She says the people who misuse public assistance are the exception, not the rule.

“It’s more than taking advantage of the system, it’s fraud. That we can commit fraud and it won’t matter, but it does, it does matter,” Barber said.

She says welfare fraud impacts the people who really deserve it.

“We have thousands and thousands of families who are doing the right thing,” she said.

Beemer says the goal is to stop people from misusing taxpayer money. He says in most cases, the money is paid back to the state.

The inspector general’s office encourages the public to call the Welfare Fraud Tipline at 1-800-932-0582 to report suspected fraud. Tipsters may remain anonymous.

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