Energy assistance program latest boondoggle

Freedom New Mexico

Even as the federal government continues its grandiose mission of redistributing your tax money, we continue to learn how unaccountable its corrupt system already is.

The Government Accounting Office, which monitors how Washington manages tax money, has uncovered yet another expensive boondoggle amid the well-intentioned federal giveaway of billions of dollars, this time in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program, serving 8.3 million U.S. households.

The program is supposed to provide low-income households “energy assistance,” another way of saying government-subsidized air conditioning and heating. But the feds paid $116 million in subsidies to applicants who used 11,000 dead people’s Social Security numbers, to 725 imprisoned convicts and 1,100 well-paid — and ineligible — government workers.

The ultimate massive scale of these improper payments is only hinted at by the GAO’s “Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program” report. The audit covered seven states — Virginia, Maryland, Ohio, New York, Illinois, Michigan and New Jersey — and found evidence of fraud in each. Even so, the investigation found 9 percent of applications contained invalid information. If that rate is representative, the total dollar amount for all 50 states would be monumental.

The GAO also found that about 260,000 applications receiving benefits contained invalid identity information, such as blank Social Security numbers, names or dates of birth. Many inaccuracies may be typos or incomplete sections, “making it impossible to determine whether these cases involve fraud,” the report said.

“Nonetheless, these applications pose a higher risk of fraud because there is no complete electronic record of beneficiaries’ identities,” said the report. In other words, if the applicants can’t be checked, who knows whether they are valid?

Previous investigations, including audits of Federal Emergency Management Agency aid after hurricanes Katrina and Rita, found that limited or nonexistent third-party information made validation impossible, leaving programs “vulnerable to substantial fraud.”

About $3.9 million in subsidies were paid on applications submitted after the applicants had died. Another $370,000 was paid for people incarcerated, and, therefore ineligible, in the four states that provided reliable prison data.

Perhaps most incredibly, another $670,000 was paid to 1,100 federal employees whose income exceeded the amount to qualify for subsidies at the time of their application.

The GAO said that to cut down on fraud, the government needs to be more certain of applicants’ eligibility. We say that to eliminate fraud, the government needs to get out of the business of redistributing taxpayers’ money.