State legislators are turning up the heat on applicants of a program designed to help the needy keep their homes warm in winter.
The House of Representatives voted unanimously Monday to pass legislation that requires the Department of Public Welfare and the Department of Community and Economic Development to verify income eligibility of recipients of LIHEAP, the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program.
The program helps low-income families with their home heating bills, but legislators said some people have been cheating the system.
All of York County's legislators voted in favor of the measure, which will now be taken up in the Senate. Co-sponsoring the legislation were state Reps. Stan Saylor, R-Windsor Township;
It was authored by state Rep. Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster County.
Miller said Tuesday morning the legislation is about "keeping honest people honest."
"As it is right now, it's basically self-reporting, though there are ways to pick up on (fraud)," he said. "If you don't ever do an audit, it makes it real easy to cheat. Just knowing audits are being done helps people not to cheat."
York numbers: For the most recent LIHEAP season, there were more than 7,200 cash applications and 1,700 crisis applications approved for York County alone, according to the Department of Public Welfare.
Miller said there isn't a county-specific estimate on how many of those applications might be fraudulent, but some people do misrepresent their income or otherwise try to profit from the system.
"I'm not going to tell you it's rampant, but we find people who, for example, don't count (all of their income) for the property tax and rent rebate program," he said. "We have a finite amount of money available to us for funding programs like this ... and ends up we can't help someone because someone else who should not qualify for the program is getting
Finding fraud: In a statement, Grove said Auditor General Jack Wagner's office "has been instrumental in identifying fraud in the programs, including hundreds of cases of individuals collecting benefits by using the Social Security numbers of deceased individuals. ..."
"The amount of fraud uncovered in this program is shocking," said Grove. "This legislation is important to cleaning up Pennsylvania's public assistance programs."
Cutler said he has worked to reform programs since Wagner released "a scathing audit" in 2007.
The legislation contains whistleblower protections for anyone who reports suspected fraud within the programs and requires employees, contractors and recipients of the programs to report suspected misconduct to the Office of Inspector General, he said.
-- Reach Christina Kauffman at email@example.com.