Welfare is a government financial assistance program designed to help individuals and families that are experiencing difficult financial times. The basic idea behind the program is to help people struggling to purchase and make payments for basic needs, such as food, shelter and medical assistance.
Some of the federally-funded welfare programs include:
- Earned Income Tax Credit;
- Housing Assistance;
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamp Program);
- Supplemental Security Income; and
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Most states also have some sort of welfare system available to its residents.
In order to qualify for welfare, certain government-set criteria must be met. For example, minimum income levels must be satisfied before assistance can be offered. The short-term goal of the program is to help people in need. The long-term goal of the program is to assist the individuals and families reliant on welfare to eventually become self-sufficient. The hope is for welfare recipients to find and keep a steady job to provide for themselves and their families and eventually no longer need welfare assistance.
Welfare fraud is a criminal act that occurs when people illegally take advantage of the governmental assistance program by receiving benefits when they really do not qualify to receive those welfare benefits. The individual committing the crime of welfare fraud usually does so by submitting false or inaccurate and thus, misleading, documents or information that result in the receipt of fraudulent benefits.
There are several notorious cases of individuals fraudulently claiming hundreds of thousands of dollars in welfare benefits and living lavish lives. More common, though, are the cases that typically go unnoticed in the mainstream media. These cases affect states and its residents because billions of dollars are lost each year as a result of welfare fraud.
Welfare fraud examples include:
- When applying for welfare benefits, claiming to make less income than is actually made;
- When applying for welfare benefits, claiming to have more dependents (children) than there are in the household;
- Using someone else’s name (including a deceased person’s name), identity theft, to receive multiple welfare benefits;
- Claiming to have a disability when in truth, the individual does not have the disability;
- Failing to report a prior criminal record or not adhering to probationary terms; and
- Failing to report other benefits, such as Social Security benefits, received.
The dishonest schemes often take away funds and resources from people that are genuinely in need of the welfare benefits.
While there is no full-proof method to avoid becoming the target of welfare fraud, there are some basic steps that can be taken in order to make the system and yourself less vulnerable.
- Unless absolutely necessary, do not share your Social Security number, bank or credit account information;
- If a family member dies, confirm that the death is reported to the Social Security Administration system;
- Retain any documentation regarding welfare application and benefits; and
- Report suspected welfare fraud to the state agency.
There will be instances when confidential information will need to be shared with welfare state officials. For example when initially completing the welfare application forms, the governmental agency will request the information in order to verify eligibility status.
Aside from taking away potential assistance from the needy there are other negative impacts welfare fraud has. It can also negatively impact the future of the criminal that takes advantage of the system. In efforts to avoid welfare fraud, state social service workers check the accuracy of the information provided by welfare applicants. Citizens also report welfare abuse suspects. These situations are also investigated by government workers.
The consequences of being involved in a welfare fraud scheme vary with regard to the severity of the case. The legal consequences and penalties can range from: denial of benefits; demand for repayment of any false benefits to imposing a fine and/or jail time. The penalties differ from state to state but jail time can be imposed anywhere from two to six years in many jurisdictions.
There are instances where individuals inadvertently commit welfare fraud. For example, when filling out paperwork for claiming welfare benefits, they misinterpret information and inaccurately fill the forms out.
These unintentional mistakes do happen and the reasons for them vary. This can include an individual’s educational struggles as well as struggles for non-native speakers, such as immigrants, that may have challenges with the English language.
A criminal defense attorney can assist you in determining the best plan for your particular situation. Each state has its own complex guidelines and rules regarding the welfare program.
Additionally, there are federal guidelines and rules that must be followed. If you have questions regarding welfare fraud, it is best to discuss your case with a lawyer that has the knowledge and experience to resolve your situation as soon as possible.