“It’s only money.”
When you book a non-refundable boat rental to go fishing — and then the forecasted “sunny day” turns into torrential thunderstorms, these are the words your mind struggles to find. We clench our jaws, mutter under our breath, and try to put one more of life’s inevitable but harmless hiccups in perspective.
But when it comes to welfare fraud, it’s not only money. And as Congress has responded to the COVID-19 pandemic by spending more and more, scammers have responded by taking more and more.
In the Paycheck Protection Program, one Miami man stole nearly four million dollars for himself and a new $300,000 sports car. He is not alone. In the unemployment program, a “perfect storm” has made landfall as fraudsters line their pockets with the benefits meant for needy Americans who are now shut out of the system. The Inspector General has estimated that cybercriminals have stolen $8 billion in unemployment benefits.
The massive increase in public assistance during the pandemic hasn’t created a new problem. It has simply pumped more money into a system already penetrated by scammers, making fraud more lucrative. Americans often open their morning newspapers to find stories of restaurant owners stealing food stamp dollars, schemes to raid public housing benefits, and sophisticated operations to swindle millions of dollars out of Medicaid.
But it’s only money, right?
Wrong. Welfare fraud is not, as the Left would have us believe, just an unfortunate but predictable cost of public assistance.
Welfare fraud threatens our health. It cheapens our work. And it undermines the values that keep our families and communities together.
But is also cheats taxpayers. Their own work has been wasted, all while real solutions for fraud prevention have been on the table for years.
“Hard-earned tax dollars” has become such a cliché that we barely hear the modifier anymore. But it’s true. The government takes those dollars from people who open storefronts in the morning and from people who work on road crews late into the night with a warm bed waiting for them. It takes them from people who spend all day on their feet waitressing at Waffle House and pushing hospital beds through emergency room hallways.
The Left says nobody wants to be on welfare programs. For individuals with disabilities, seniors, and poor children, it’s a fair point. But it still doesn’t change the reality that welfare serves more than the truly needy.
It has been 25 years since Congress passed limited reforms in the cash welfare program in the 1990s. Yet a single, able-bodied man in his mid-30s can still apply for and receive Medicaid, public housing, and food stamps (in many places) without working, training, or volunteering at all. And millions of Americans do just that.
The Left says nobody wants fraud either. But in both cases — welfare for the able-bodied and welfare fraud — the Left takes the approach that a penny spent is better than a penny earned. And that’s an easy way to guarantee the status quo.
On the right, some leaders pay lip service to the issue. But lip service is limp service.
Those who understand the importance of ending welfare fraud do more than treat it as the corroding agent on public trust that it is. They also see the political opportunity to unite Ronald Reagan’s coalition of business-minded conservatives, lunch-pail Democrats, and frustrated moms on a single issue.
The Americans of every background who don’t take available benefits consciously choose to work hard. They choose to keep their families and their neighborhoods moving forward.
And every dollar the government diverts from workers to fraudsters could have been spent on school supplies for more effective virtual learning, at the local restaurant struggling to stay open, or to help the needy Americans they know personally.
Just look at how strongly Americans favor tightening rules, closing loopholes, and updating data cross-checks. The numbers look more like the approval ratings of a golden retriever puppy than anything in the world of politics. That’s because it’s not only money.
States have the tools to combat welfare fraud. Policymakers can and should implement common-sense reforms to lock out fraudsters from Medicaid, require more frequent reporting for changes in circumstances for food stamps, and utilize welfare crosschecks with records for death, residency, wages, employment, and lottery winners.
These policies — coupled with a commitment to program integrity on the part of policymakers — have the power to root out systematic fraud in welfare programs across the country.
If leaders seize these reforms, they can take credit for ending the most common forms of welfare fraud once and for all.