For three years, Tovia O’Neal simultaneously received food stamps, cash welfare, and Medicaid benefits in both Texas and New Mexico. Using a relative’s address, she raked in nearly $50,000 in benefits from New Mexico alone, on top of the welfare benefits she received in Texas. An investigation prompted by the Office of Inspector General led to a 2012 indictment and eventual plea agreement.
Sadly, stories like O’Neal’s are far too common. Thousands of individuals across the country receive welfare benefits in states they no longer live in, in states they’ve never lived in, or even in multiple states at once.
Years ago, the federal government set up the Public Assistance Reporting Information System, or PARIS, to help catch some of these issues. But as the Department of Health and Human Services reports, state participation is “limited” and the system’s effectiveness is “inconsistent.” Many states don’t use the system at all for food stamps, and auditors warn that the information in the system is incomplete. Even when states participate, the system only flags individuals receiving benefits in multiple states after the fraud has already occurred.