Changes to a successful welfare fraud investigation program are raising some concerns about overloading investigators, reports MPR.
The program saves the state about $4.50 for every $1 spent on investigations, but a new regional approach may make it harder to cover some rural counties.
Funding to some counties, such as Becker, Marshall, Polk and Wright, was cut. And in many rural areas, other counties will take over investigations. In most cases there won’t be any new investigators.
MPR cites the situation in Clay County, which has two fraud investigators:
…most of their work has been in Moorhead. Now, they will also cover Becker County, an hour or more away.
Investigator Rick Ohren often needs to verify if people are living at a certain address. A case in Becker County can mean lots of driving.
“We can go to houses in Moorhead many times a day because it’s so close and be back at the office in five minutes,” Ohren said. “Out there it’s a little different. To be honest I was there last week and I was pretty much there six hours of my eight-hour day and never did find them at home.
“It’s not a waste of time because you’re doing your job, but you could be doing a lot of other things if you were here doing ten cases instead of there doing one,” he said.
Still, state officials say restructuring the program expands fraud investigations from 55 to 74 counties. The state provides about $1.5 million a year to counties for fraud prevention, and the Legislature added $228,000 to expand the program.
Department of Human Services Assistant Commissioner Chuck Johnson said he understands investigators with large geographic areas might be less efficient, but he said many rural counties are very efficient at preventing fraud.
“We expect that we’ll be able to maintain our cost-benefit ratio and that we’ll collect more dollars back having more investigators out there and better coverage across the state,” Johnson said. “We think it’s important to have coverage so people in all counties know there are folks looking out for what’s going on with public assistance dollars, both clients and taxpayers.”
Johnson said it may take a few months for counties to adjust to the new structure, and rising public assistance caseloads may put more pressure on the system, but he’s confident the regional approach will improve Minnesota’s already successful fraud prevention program.