WELFARE CLAIMS TO BE CHECKED; HOME VISITS AIM TO STEM WIDESPREAD FRAUD IN L.A.
Los Angeles County may come knocking again on the doors of welfare recipients who have long been able to get public money with no official ever seeing how they live.
Responding to a directive from the county Board of Supervisors, the Department of Public and Social Services plans to institute a home visitation program to root out bogus welfare applicants whose fraudulent claims cost taxpayers millions of dollars each year.
Monday, in a two-paragraph memorandum submitted to the county, Lynn Bayer, DPSS director, said that implementing a home visitation program similar to one in place in San Diego County was ``feasible.''
Bayer vowed to work with the District Attorney's Office to outline and implement the program in order to create an ``extra level of background checks.''
Based on recent studies of welfare fraud in Orange and San Diego counties, authorities estimate at least 30 percent of Los Angeles County's welfare claims are bogus. The fraudulent claims cost taxpayers about $400 million last year and seem to be increasing, welfare fraud investigators said.
Bayer and District Attorney Gil Garcetti, who submitted an independent report on welfare fraud to the board, would not specify how or when the home visitation program would be instituted.
A special task force is scheduled to meet today in the Hall of Administration to discuss funding, staffing and legal issues. Representatives from DPSS, the District Attorney's Office, the City Administrator's Office, and the county attorney are expected to attend.
The county stopped visiting the homes of welfare applicants during the late 1980s because of budget constraints. The current system of checks largely depends on self-disclosure and trust.
Embarrassed by television and newspaper reports that detailed the lack of home checks in Los Angeles County, the Board of Supervisors issued its directive during the Feb. 23 meeting. The board gave Bayer and Garcetti 30 days to report back to them on the home visitation program, specifically citing the successful home visitation program in San Diego County.
Garcetti submitted his response last week and categorized the current welfare fraud prosecution program as ``effective.'' But he added fraud could be reduced if there were investigations before welfare dollars are given out.
Sandi Gibbons, a spokeswoman for the District Attorney's Office, called Garcetti's report preliminary, saying a more in-depth response would be submitted following the task force meetings.
The San Diego ``Project 100 Percent'' program was implemented by the San Diego County District Attorney's Office in June 1997 to verify all applications for public assistance through home visits.
About 1,500 aid applications are investigated each month by 31 San Diego County home-visit inspectors. As a result, 27 percent of the county's applications for aid have been denied, and 30 percent of the grants have been reduced.
``Home visitation should be considered for Los Angeles County,'' said Steve Cooley, director of the Los Angeles County District Attorney's Welfare Fraud Division. ``It's unfortunate that years ago, due to budget constraints, home visitation was abandoned. That decision left these programs vulnerable to those in our society who are truly greedy. Over the years, the problem has worsened.''
San Diego County started the program following a grand jury investigation into its Department of Public and Social Services. A similar grand jury investigation has been going on in Los Angeles County for several months and is near completion, according to two sources.