Scamming the hand that feeds them

Increased efforts of Niagara County Sheriff's Office in fight against welfare fraud illuminate a growing problem

Local law enforcement is demonstrating commendable dedication to its investigation into welfare fraud, which has cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars annually in recent years.

Although the sheriff’s office deserves praise for taking action – it has expanded its welfare fraud investigations significantly in response to the growing problem – the demand reflects a shockingly high supply of citizens willing to prey on a system critical in supporting some of society’s most vulnerable. Greater preventive action, rather than reactionary measures, is clearly necessary to combat this issue.

The success of the Welfare Fraud Unit (and its very existence) demonstrates the moral failure of individuals found guilty of welfare scams. Most recently, officials arrested 26 people and sanctioned 38 more in a single investigation. The past two years of police work has resulted in the recovery of close to a million dollars – and that’s from the investigations in a single county.

Clearly, welfare fraud is running rampant, as is the greed and selfishness of those who take advantage of the system.

Welfare is a vital resource that has become stigmatized because of behavior like this. Not only are those who commit welfare fraud cheating the system and breaking the law, but they also deny rightful welfare users who use their benefits properly the opportunity to do so without feeling unjustly criticized.

Welfare users should not be aligned with criminals.

They have the right to assistance and the right to rely on it without shame. This poses a significant challenge in itself, and welfare abusers are throwing yet another obstacle at rightful recipients, who face more than his or her fair share of obstacles to begin with.

The recovery of funds and prosecution of those who wrongfully obtain them is a step in the right direction. But an even better path to take would be the route of prevention. The extent of this problem – a single investigation turned up $180,000 in fraudulent food stamp transactions – calls for more than reactionary responses, and reveals that clearly, the preventive measures that are currently in place are not getting the job done.

Essentially, welfare fraud needs to be stopped before it starts. Recovering stolen money is commendable, but ensuring that thievery doesn’t happen in the first place is ideal. Doing so would be an important first step in allowing rightful welfare users to feel less ostracized on a daily basis.

Taking preemptive measures against welfare abuse would send a critical message to those who abuse the system and those who use it correctly. But it would also make clear to society as a whole that the welfare system is deserving of public attention and protection – that those who rely on welfare matter as citizens just as much as those who do not.

There is much to debate about the welfare system. Questions about who deserves to receive benefits and the level of autonomy surrounding welfare generate a wide variety of opinions and result in little agreement. Despite the lack of consensus, these dilemmas matter greatly and deserve attention. Yet the issue of welfare fraud provides a problematic distraction and prevents progress and change from occurring in a sector of society that so greatly needs improvement.

Unlike many questions swirling around the issue of welfare, there is no ambiguity when it comes to welfare fraud. Those who cheat the system are placing yet another burden on the backs of those who already have too much hardship to bear.