Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Undocumented Immigrants draining the Medicare program? A lie or a Lie.!!!

If you put all the different sources of funding together today- the SSI, the IHSS, the child care, welfare and Section 8 - they can make a family income of $5,000 to $8,000 a month without having to really work. That's up to $100,000 a year tax-free. They can live in very nice homes and drive nice cars but the Goverment, Nativist, Minuteman Groups and Anti Immigrants blaming undocumented immigrants when to the contrary are not eligible to receive any "welfare" benefits and even legal immigrants are severely restricted in the benefits they can receive.

As the Congressional Research Service points out in a 2007 report, undocumented immigrants, who comprise nearly one-third of all immigrants in the country, are not eligible to receive public "welfare" benefits -- ever.

In the months since the Los Angeles County Civil Grand Jury found that "scam artists" are "embedded" inside the county's in-home care program, an investigation has uncovered widespread fraud, including county employees involved in the schemes.

More than 700 instances of suspected fraud have been referred to the state Department of Health Care Services for investigation, and arrests of In-Home Supportive Services employees are pending, prosecutors said.

"I think the extent of the fraud is greater than anyone ever realized," said James Baker, assistant head deputy in the Welfare Fraud Division of the county District Attorney's Office.

He said officials in the Department of Public Social Services are re-examining the whole in-home care program and protocols.

"They have started an internal review of all IHSS and DPSS employees (involved)," he said.

As the number of county residents receiving in-home care has doubled to 174,000 in the past decade, officials say fraud in the $1.6 billion program has also grown exponentially.

Last summer, the little-noticed section of the grand jury's report found that the entitlement program, which provides in-home care to elderly and disabled people, is rife with fraud.

"The IHSS program is not supposed to be a cottage industry for scam artists, especially those embedded within the ranks of DPSS itself," the report authors wrote. The scams "start inside the organization itself," said

John Gleiter, chairman of the grand jury's Investigative Committee and co-author of the report.
"It's the old Mafia game," said Gleiter, a retired businessman who lives in North Hollywood. "You look inside to see who is watching the chickens, and it's the fox who is watching the chickens."

County Social Services Director Philip Browning, who previously served as the state fraud director in Alabama, said fraud will not be tolerated among the department's 14,000 employees.

"It's heartbreaking to hear situations where employees have done things they shouldn't have and misused the program," he said. "I personally don't believe we have very many employees who are abusing the system, but when we do find these individuals, we want to take every disciplinary action possible and prosecute them to the fullest extent."

Growing concerns about fraud in the in-home program arose after the settlement of two lawsuits involving DPSS workers who blew the whistle.

Earlier this month, the county Board of Supervisors approved a $148,000 settlement for DPSS employee Sandra Siedenburg, who said she suffered retaliation for reporting many instances of elder abuse, theft of government funds and fraud, according to the lawsuit filed by Beverly Hills attorney Leo James Terrell. In the lawsuit, Siedenburg, who lives in Palmdale, complained about failures to investigate after she reported the incidents to her superiors.

In 2006, the supervisors approved a $250,000 settlement with former DPSS welfare case reviewer Gamil Youssef, who alleged he was retaliated against after making allegations of fraudulent activity inside the department.

Last month, the Service Employees International Union permanently banned Tyrone Freeman, former president of the union representing in-home care workers, from union membership, according to an SEIU statement. The SEIU said an independent hearing officer, former California Supreme Court Justice Joseph Grodin, found that Freeman had engaged in a pattern of financial mismanagement and self-dealing in violation of union bylaws. The union demanded that Freeman pay $1.1 million in restitution.

David Kline, spokesman for the California Taxpayers Association, said the grand jury report, the lawsuit settlements and the union president's ouster point toward the need for a statewide investigation.

"It seems like this is exactly the kind of investigation that is needed in every corner of the state because this program has grown very rapidly," Kline said. "If this much waste and fraud is going on in Los Angeles County, then we can only imagine what is going on in the other 57 counties."

In the report, grand jurors wrote that the "well-intentioned" aid program employs more than 120,000 people - mostly family members and relatives - paid $9 an hour to provide care and domestic services to elderly and disabled people.

The care is provided to people unable to take care of themselves. When effective, the program saves the state money by enabling elderly and disabled people to remain in their homes, rather than in far more costly nursing homes and medical facilities.

But county grand jurors found that the program has had mixed effectiveness: on the one hand, helping the "truly needy (and) the thought-to- be-needy," but on the other hand, inadvertently supporting criminal behavior.

"The mission of DPSS-administered aid programs is to ameliorate the plight of the poor and otherwise needy, not to cultivate their situation," jurors wrote.

Baker said his office has prosecuted dozens of people in IHSS scams costing taxpayers millions of dollars - as when people pretended to be blind or schizophrenic to receive benefits, or when some used multiple identities.

Baker said many involved in in-home care scams are also involved in abuse of programs to help the needy with child care, Section 8 housing and food stamps, as well as income assistance through federal and state welfare and Supplemental Security Income programs. In all, it may cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars annually in fraud, Baker said.

In July, Baker's office filed criminal charges against 21 men and women accused of an IHSS scheme that cost taxpayers more than $2 million.

Among those facing welfare-fraud charges is Kim Johnson, 40, of Palmdale. While receiving $194,000 in IHSS benefits for 24-hour protective supervision due to claimed disability, Johnson was observed driving a Cadillac Escalade, investigators said.

Prosecutors also accused Johnson and others of being involved in a conspiracy to buy a home in the Antelope Valley with profits and $100,000 in Section 8 benefits.

One of the big problems with in-home care is that people can qualify for "any type of disability," including ones "hard to really prove or disprove," Baker said.

"For instance, someone can have someone take them to the doctor and say, `I hear voices,"' he said. "The doctor writes a diagnosis of schizophrenia. They take that to DPSS or SSI, and they get benefits based on the doctor's note."

To crack down on fraud, grand jurors recommended fingerprinting, photographing and conducting criminal-background checks of recipients and providers. They also called for enhanced computer technology to cross-reference program participants and periodically reassess the recipient's actual needs.

In response, the DPSS sponsored a recent meeting with prosecutors and officials from state and federal agencies. The group drafted 29 recommendations to reduce fraud but not eliminating.

Both Browning and Baker say a big problem is that the state Department of Health Care Services, responsible for investigating IHSS fraud, has only a few investigators. Of the 747 fraud referrals DPSS made to the state since 2005, only 142 have been investigated.

A bill was introduced earlier this year to allow counties to conduct their own IHSS investigations, but it did not pass.

"Most of these recommendations are not within our authority," Browning said. "It will take the state Department of Social Services or the Department of Health Care Services to allow us to take some action."

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