Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner yesterday called for the implementation of recommendations he made to the Department of Public Welfare (DPW) two years ago to stop the possibility of fraud in the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
"We are still looking for written verification that our recommendations be implemented," says Wagner. The request came one day after Philadelphia District Attorney Lynne Abraham charged 18 people --including 12 DPW employees -- with stealing over $500,000 in LIHEAP funds. "The charges brought by District Attorney Abraham are a strong verification of the recommendations of our audit and the corrections that are necessary," says Wagner.
Abraham acted in part on the information put forth in 2007 audit of the federally-funded program, which helps low-income families heat their homes. The flawed application process allowed LIHEAP hopefuls to register under multiple social security numbers, or even the social security numbers of dead people.
"[The DPW] practically assured that both fraud and theft would flourish," Abraham said at a press conference announcing the results of her investigation. "There was a total failure of supervision and oversight."
"Instantaneous checks and balances need to be incorporated into the system," says Wagner, "so [thieves] can be identified and obviously applications denied, immediately denied. In fact, charges [should] be brought against people who purposely attempt to claim monies that they're certainly not deserving of."
Wagner warns that Pennsylvania stands to lose a lot of money if his recommendations aren't put into place and LIHEAP thievery is allowed to live on. He says not only will the federal funding for LIHEAP be taken from taxpayers by the undeserving, but stimulus funds might also have to be allocated differently to make up for that. That might put a burden on revitalization projects statewide.