The News-Star, Monroe, Louisiana, on state auditor
The News-Star, Monroe, Louisiana, on state auditor:
About $1.3 million in fed-eral food card benefits were used fraudulently in Louisi-ana after the legal recipients died, a state audit has found.
The audit looked at Louisiana Purchase food cards assigned to one-person households during the four years ending June 30, 2013. It found that 3,938 were used after the person’s death.
Unfortunately, that misuse feeds the public’s perception that inadequate controls exist over food stamp benefits. Taxpaying citizens are particularly concerned about the Louisiana Purchase debit cards, and we are happy to see the Legislative Auditor’s Office taking a hard look at those expenditures.
The Department of Chil-dren and Family Services arranged in April to get daily death records from the state health department, Secretary Suzy Sonnier said in a reply dated June 25 and filed with the July 2 audit. She said the department is working to automate a check of Social Security numbers against people getting Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Pro-gram benefits.
She noted that $1.3 million amounts to less than 1 percent of Louisiana’s SNAP benefits to single-person households during the four years studied.
More than $556,000 — about 43 percent of the total — was spent four months or more after the recipient’s death, according to the audit. Nearly $273,000, or 21 percent, was spent in the first month, the audit said.
“According to DCFS, it would be difficult to prevent all improper spending in the first month after death because of the amount of time it takes for a death record to become available to DCFS,” the auditors wrote.
They also noted that no federal program lets the department wipe out benefits loaded onto a card until they have been on the card for a year.
“This could lead to mis-spending by others after the participant’s death,” the auditors wrote.
Sonnier wrote that the department’s fraud and recovery unit is investigating the identified cases and will do all it can to get back the money and prosecute whoever used the cards.
But auditors noted that the department said the chance of getting back the money is low because, with only one person in the household, there’s nobody left to investigate for fraud.
We disagree. The depart-ment needs to investigate which family member or caregiver used the card. It’s a small circle when there is only one person in a house-hold.
It’s a drop in the big buck-et, granted. But the more that people know fraud is being detected and prosecut-ed, the less likely they will be tempted to misuse the benefits.
And for the ordinary, tax-paying citizens, aggressive prosecution of this type of fraud is what we expect.