LePage is going after the wrong welfare fraud

One Maine government welfare program shows $223 million (that’s million!) in possible fraud. Another program reveals $293,000 (that’s thousand!) in possible fraud. Which program would you focus on? The big one, right?

So why is Gov. Paul LePage wasting his time and our money going after chump change?

Last week Gov. LePage released data showing that out of 1.8 million welfare-related transactions, there were only 3,701 instances of possible fraud. This is two-tenths of one percent. As I pointed out on television, the headline should have been: “Welfare fraud in Maine virtually nonexistent!”

Of course, this is not the headline that LePage sought. He is quoted as saying that the release of this data “indicates a larger problem than originally thought.” Really? 0.2 percent is larger than originally thought?

According to the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, most private sector businesses lose 5 percent to fraud. Most studies of public sector unemployment and TANF (food stamps) benefits, believe the fraud rate is around 2 percent. So if the governor thought 0.2 percent was larger than expected, what percent did he expect to see? Two elevenths? You obviously can’t get much smaller.

But regardless of whether it is higher than what he thought, the bigger question is why is he (and why are Republicans in the State House) focusing so much energy on something so minuscule?

If they want to focus on welfare fraud, why not go where the money is?

In 2006, OPEGA, our Legislature’s oversight agency, studied some of the dozens of Maine programs meant to spur economic development and labeled more than a quarter “high risk” – meaning the programs’ design left them highly vulnerably to fraud. As reported by the Maine Center for Public Interest Reporting, OPEGA’s report states that 12 of the 46 programs studied lack necessary oversight, which could cause “fraud to go undetected.”

And lest you think this possible corporate welfare fraud is chump change, understand that this equates to $223 million (out of approximately $600 million). The possible welfare fraud Republicans focus on equates to $293,000 (out of a possible $93 million).

So, there you have it. Twenty-five percent of our corporate welfare programs show possible fraud of $223 million. Two tenths of a percent of our human welfare programs show possible fraud for a total of $293,000.

Yet where do Republicans focus all their energy? Well you know. The question is why? Unfortunately, the answer to that is simply pure ideology and politics.

Sad. And shameful.

Posted by Ethan Strimling