Investigator Finds 3/4 of Cooling Assistance Applicants Unqualified

0
179
DollarSigns

By Carol Vaughn —

A fraud investigator at Accomack County Department of Social Services is saving thousands of taxpayer dollars.
Of more than 37 applications for air conditioning units people made this year in the cooling assistance program, 28 were denied, saving the department more than $12,200, according to Frances Bailey, Accomack County Department of Social Services fraud investigator.
“Knowing that COVID is present and has affected those financially, I wish everyone could be approved for an AC unit. However the guidelines for AC unit disbursement aren’t up to me as the investigator. That is government policy,” Bailey said in an email, adding, “My job is to verify that the client is in fact eligible, which is fair.”
The number of “false applications” this year is the highest Bailey has seen since she started working for the Department of Social Services.
“I believe it may have a lot to do with the financial strain of COVID,” she said.
Those who submitted applications fraudulently were not referred for prosecution, she said.
“Some say they didn’t understand the application clearly and others already had working AC units but figured they could get another one,” Bailey said.
Because the investigations were done before air conditioning units or vouchers were given out, clients did not have to pay anything back to the department.
Bailey’s work investigating for fraud in the department’s cooling assistance program has saved more than $27,000 over the last three summers.
“I try to be proactive instead of reactive. This possibly saves the client from being referred for prosecution,” she said.
Bailey also helped the department recover nearly $101,200 in total between June 1, 2018 and May 31, 2019, according to a state report.
That amount included about $14,655 in money intercepted from tax refunds.
When clients stop voluntarily paying back any TANF or SNAP benefits they were ineligible to receive, they are entered into a database and their federal and state tax refunds are intercepted to pay the money back to the agency.
“I enter in over 1,000-plus people in November to December every year,” Bailey said.
The current year’s report has not yet been issued by the state, but according to the database, around $15,300 has been intercepted so far in 2020.