I’m sure you saw it. You couldn’t have missed it.
Gwyneth Paltrow’s tweet about food stamps, and how difficult it is to live on them, whipped up an online frenzy:
This is what $29 gets you at the grocery store—what families on SNAP (i.e. food stamps) have to live on for a week. pic.twitter.com/OZMPA3nxij
— Gwyneth Paltrow (@GwynethPaltrow) April 9, 2015
But what went seemingly unnoticed in the debate surrounding one of our nation’s 80+ welfare programs is the discussion of fraud, waste, and abuse that is occurring, and its cost to taxpayers.
Gwyneth may be outraged that one can only purchase a half a dozen limes on the taxpayer’s dollar, but shouldn’t we be more concerned about the massive growth in dependency on the government and the abuses in the system?
What fraud? What waste? What abuse? Glad you asked.
1. One man, 3,000 EBT cards – WUT?
In Chicago, Wael Ghosheh purchased massive amounts of candy and energy drinks at members-only wholesale stores using multiple LINK (food stamp) cards, and later sold the goods to local businesses for a profit. Cost to taxpayers – nearly $1 million.
2. Zombie Beneficiaries
Also from Illinois, taxpayers were soaked for more than $12 million in Medicaid payments for dead people. The payments were discovered in a follow-up audit, after an original audit found that 34 percent of randomly selected files contained eligibility errors. When an complete audit was finished, more than 300,000 ineligible enrollees were found, costing taxpayers over $350,000 million in one year alone.
3. Medicaid for everyone!
In 2011, through the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare’s (DPW) “Enterprise Program Integrity” initiative, the state identified more than 160,000 ineligible individuals who were receiving benefits, including individuals who were in prison and even millionaire lottery winners. Within its first 10 month, this audit process saved taxpayers over $300 million.
4. No verification. What could go wrong?
In Minnesota, in some cases, the state did not bother to verify welfare applicants’ income at all, even though they had access to the data. Once auditors crosschecked data, they were able to identify several applicants who had under-reported income, in many cases by up to $70,000 per year.
5. Taken? No. Missing? Yes.
The Nebraska Health Insurance Premium Payment Program is severely lacking in appropriate documentation. How bad is it?
An audit in 2013 of the Nebraska Health Insurance Premium Payment (HIPP) program—a component of the state’s Medicaid program found that the state lacked appropriate documentation in every reviewed case file, calling into question the entirety of expenditures made under the program. More than three quarters of the audited cases had received incorrect payments, with auditors identifying several cases of apparent fraud.
This shocking statistic, as well as all the others listed in this post, were recently released in a new report by Jonathan Ingram, Research Director for the Foundation for Government Accountability. The report is by no means a complete account of the fraud and abuse happening in the welfare system today, but it does show a need for substantive welfare reform.
The media may be focusing on Paltrow’s tweet and the contents of her grocery cart, but we think it’s important to remember that every dollar wasted is a dollar not allocated properly to those in our country who are truly needy.
Legislators have an obligation to make sure resources aren’t squandered and that criminals who defraud the system are held accountable. Currently, the FGA is working on legislation to reform welfare programs in 24 states.
A similar version of this article was previously posted at IJReview.com.