Cracking down on welfare cheats is everyone’s job

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It is impossible to know exactly how much welfare fraud costs taxpayers, but the toll is easily in the billions.

The Los Angeles Times reported in October that 24 percent of new applications for government benefits in San Diego County contained fraudulent information.

The county prosecutor later softened that a bit, explaining that “discrepancies” would be a better word, but the point remains — a lot of people are attempting to receive or are receiving government benefits they are not entitled to get.

The most common discrepancies, according to the prosecutor, included incorrect information about the whereabouts of spouses, children and other dependents, misreporting of income and property and lying about felony arrests.

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While the fraud rate may not be that high in Maine, we certainly have our share of suspicious criminal behavior.

Last week we reported that former Lewiston resident Kathleen Schidzig is accused of defrauding the Maine Department of Health and Human Services out of more than $10,000 over a 28-month period.

Schidzig, 31, faces felony charges of theft by deception and aggravated forgery, and three misdemeanor charges of unsworn falsification.

She allegedly misled DHHS about her relationship with Kenneth Hardy, 30, the father of her four children who she reported did not live with the family or provide financial support. He apparently did, according to DHHS.

Schidzig told the Sun Journal she plans to fight the charges in court.

Monday, a federal jury found a South Thomaston man guilty of four counts of lying about his income to receive subsidized Dirigo Health coverage, according to the Bangor Daily News.

Rodney Russell, 47, apparently worked “under the table” for a construction company owned by a friend between 2007 and 2009, and failed to report that income.

Last year, an Auburn man, Ahmed Yusuf Guled, and a Portland woman, Abdulle Osman, pleaded guilty to health care fraud.

MaineCare had paid out more than $61,000 for fraudulent personal health care services.

Last summer, a health-care fraud unit made up of state and federal officials raided several businesses in Norway, including the Living Independence Network Corp. and the Western Maine Enrichment Foundation, a nonprofit organization that promotes cultural and ethnic awareness.

There are probably a thousand ways to cheat the government out of everything from Social Security to unemployment benefits.

Nearly all scams involve a documentable lie. In other words, the people cheating the government lie, but rely on the size and complexity of these programs to carry out their scams.

They calculate that with millions of claims to process, the government will not detect their fraud.

That’s why taxpayers are encouraged to take an active role in weeding out government benefit abuse.

And you can do your part by calling any of the following agencies if you suspect fraud. All take anonymous tips, but they also say it helps to talk with the person making the complaint.

* For TANF, food stamp and MaineCare fraud, contact the Fraud Investigation and Recovery Unit of the Maine DHHS during normal business hours at 207-287-2409.

* For Social Security program fraud, call 800-597-0118.

* For Medicare fraud, call 800-447-8477.

Remember, the people who abuse government benefit programs are stealing your money.

rrhoades@sunjournal.com

The opinions expressed in this column reflect the views of the ownership and editorial board.

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