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WELFARE FRAUD CALLED COSTLY TO COUNTY.

Byline: Douglas Haberman Staff Writer

The welfare system run by Los Angeles County is riddled with fraud that could be costing taxpayers more than $500 million a year, the county grand jury said in its final report issued Wednesday.

The panel ``strongly urges that the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors retain an outside individual or private management firm to oversee the implementation of (our) recommendations,'' the report said.

The manager should report directly to the Board of Supervisors, the grand jury recommended.

The panel, composed of 23 private citizens who serve for one year, also reviewed a number of other issues, including the city of Los Angeles Department of Animal Regulation, the welfare of jail inmates and the physical condition of two of the county's three juvenile halls.

Among its findings:

City animal shelters are aging and in need of repair and upgrade, but animals are well cared for despite understaffing.

$70 million in an inmate welfare fund wasn't being used directly for inmate services as required by law. Inmates' needs, including hygienic necessities such as soap and toothbrushes, are not met consistently and prices for them are too high.

Central Juvenile Hall and Los Padrinos Juvenile Hall are becoming increasingly costly to maintain, even at a minimal level. The report recommended the county seek state and federal funds to renovate the detention centers.

The grand jury found 16 major deficiencies in the county Department of Public Social Services' welfare fraud prevention and detection program, including too few cases investigated, more than a year of elapsed time between referral of high-priority cases and their assignment to investigators, fraud investigations closed due to missing files, and insufficient monitoring for and investigation of potential employee fraud.

The department has a $2.7 billion budget for the fiscal year starting today. In the first nine months of 1998, it issued benefits to roughly 1.4 million people.

Lynn Bayer, the department's director, had not seen the report but expressed some skepticism of the grand jury's $500 million estimate.

``I'd have to see how they're building those numbers,'' she said. ``We feel that we've done a good job with the resources available.''

But more can and will be done, Bayer said.

One of the jury's recommendations - for the county to send an investigator to the residence of each applicant for aid, to verify eligibility - will be implemented this year in a pilot program. The Board of Supervisors gave its approval April 20 for reinstatement of home visits, abandoned 25 years ago to save money.

The department also has formed an Internal Security Task Force with the county Auditor-Controller's Office and an independent contractor, she said.
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 1, 1999
Words:442
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