Corbett: Pa. saved $300M preventing welfare fraud

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HARRISBURG -- A new campaign ad from Gov. Tom Corbett claims his administration has saved more than $300 million in welfare costs by preventing fraud and abuse.

The claim is based on assumed savings from applications that were deemed fraudulent, as well as overpayments, some of which were fraudulent and others which were inadvertent errors.

"We've saved $338 million in the welfare system by working to prevent fraud and abuse here in Pennsylvania," the governor says in the minutelong ad, speaking to a crowd of listeners.

The figure is calculated based on two elements.

The bulk of it -- $233 million -- is "cost avoidance" meaning applications that were deemed fraudulent and where the applicant never received any benefits, said James Timko, special assistant to the inspector general. The office of inspector general investigates such instances of suspected fraud.

Mr. Timko said the figure comes from the approximately 35,000 to 40,000 cases where his office found fraud since January 2011, when Mr. Corbett took office. It includes instances of fraud in programs such as food stamps, Medicaid and cash assistance welfare, called Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.

The $338 million figure also counts "overpayments" to recipients, some of which were fraudulent, and others which were "inadvertent household errors," said Lucas Miller, director of the Office of Inspector General's Bureau of Fraud Prevention and Prosecution.

"There are nonfraud collections [included]," Mr. Miller said.

The Department of Public Welfare is one of the largest agencies in state government, though the vast majority of that spending is driven by Medicaid costs.

In the governor's proposed 2014-15 $29.4 billion general fund budget, DPW is allocated to receive $11.4 billion, of which $8.7 billion is projected to be Medicaid spending.

More than 2.2 million Pennsylvanians are enrolled in Medicaid, and more than 1.8 million receive food stamps as of December, the most recent statistics available. Welfare is a much smaller program, with about 192,000 recipients.

The state should not be claiming they have stopped fraud unless the case has been identified as a criminal matter, rather than cases of administrative errors, said Ken Regal, executive director of Pittsburgh-based anti-hunger group Just Harvest.

The ad began airing on cable stations statewide last week, according to a spokesman for Mr. Corbett's campaign. The commercial also features Mr. Corbett stating how he has saved taxpayers' money through cutting spending, such as reducing the state's vehicle fleet.

Kate Giammarise: or 1-717-787-4254 or on Twitter @KateGiammarise.

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