County's Welfare Fraud Program

Several inaccuracies and misperceptions appeared in the editorial "It's Not for Everyone" (Feb. 13). The editorial fosters misunderstanding about the county's Welfare Fraud Early Detection and Prevention Program. It also discredits the county's efforts to focus attention on a successful fraud prevention model that could ensure that our nation's welfare budget is used only for the needy.

The county's program reduces the costs associated with welfare grants by denying funds to those who fraudulently apply for benefits. When Social Service Agency eligibility workers identify suspected fraudulent applications, they request an investigation by the Special Investigation Unit (SIU). SIU personnel investigate each case and submit their findings to the eligibility worker, who makes the final eligibility decision on a welfare applicant. The investigator does not "screen" applicants, as The Times incorrectly reported.

The county shared the results of its program with federal and state officials in 1982. In 1983, Gov. George Deukmejian supported statewide implementation of Orange County's model as one of his budget reform measures. The state Legislature, with the 1983-1984 budget, offered counties the opportunity to administer "a welfare fraud early detection/prevention program." According to state Department of Social Service officials, more than 20 counties responded to the state's offer and developed programs to suit each individual county's needs.

The Times questions the equity of requiring all counties to adopt a fraud prevention program similar to Orange County's. Orange County's program was used as a guide by the state Department of Social Services to compare the effectiveness of existing programs and to serve as a framework for new programs. There was no attempt to force the county's program on any other jurisdiction as The Times claims. The Times stated that "it wasn't a good idea then (and) it still isn't." Obviously, the governor, the state Legislature and the public thought it was good idea then and still do.

Even the federal government believed our program merited attention. The Social Security Administration funded an independent study that validated taxpayer savings of up to $26 million during one 18-month period. The study concluded that "Orange County's program is unquestionably cost-effective."

Based on the consultant's findings, I have written to federal officials requesting consideration of financial assistance to state and local governments to encourage the development of similar welfare fraud prevention programs. The Times fails to understand that it is Orange County's approach to preventing welfare fraud that other local governments can benefit from, not necessarily the county's procedural details.

The Times also echoed a concern raised by welfare-rights attorneys, who worry that our program "could intimidate some legitimate applicants who would then not apply for benefits that they are eligible to receive." This statement makes as much sense as saying that Orange County residents are afraid to drive because they fear they may be stopped by a traffic officer. When drivers follow the rules of the road, they have no reason to feel intimidated. Likewise, legitimate applicants for welfare have no reason to be apprehensive about Orange County's eligibility determination process.

The Times' editorial opinion was misleading and inaccurate. Orange County residents have a right to be proud of our program and the competent personnel who preserve the integrity of our welfare programs, both for the applicant who is truly eligible and for the taxpayer who pays the bill.

ROGER R. STANTON

Orange County Supervisor

1st District

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