Fujioka Looking for Fraud in L.A. County Welfare Payments

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CITY NEWS SERVICE

Los Angeles County Chief Executive Officer William Fujioka raised the possibility Tuesday of fraud by applicants for county welfare dollars and suggested an audit.

Fujioka reported on budget matters at a Board of Supervisors meeting, saying that the county had almost doubled its payments under the general relief program in four years.

The county has estimated that it will pay out $276 million in total welfare payments for the 2011-12 fiscal year. It paid a total of $148 million in the 2007-08 fiscal year.

“When you see the increase, it just leads one to wonder if some of it is created by fraud,” Fujioka said.

Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky challenged that assumption, saying, “The increase does track with the economy.”

Fujioka said that was true during the earlier stages of the economic downturn, but as unemployment began to plateau, county welfare payments continued to climb, which has not historically been the case.

Fujioka said he sent some employees to a social services facility to see who was applying for aid.

While he said the information was only anecdotal, he heard back that staffers saw “significant numbers of folks in their 20s who are saying they’re disabled or they’re homeless, unable to work for a number of reasons. It appears that, for lack of a better expression, that folks are almost reading from a script to get this particular benefit.”

The county pays general relief of $221 per month to indigent adults who do not qualify for federal or state aid. The county has been aggressively working to shift welfare recipients off their rolls by helping them apply for federal aid.

Fujioka said he will present a formal request to the board asking to work with the county’s auditor-controller to conduct a comprehensive audit of the general relief program.

“We need to be vigilant,” Fujioka said.

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