Welfare is a system of benefits and public relief given to those who can demonstrate that they are in need. Welfare also includes AFDC (Aid to Families with Dependent Children) and SNAP (Supplement Nutrition Assistance Program), also known as food stamps. Tax revenues collected pay for the money needed to provide welfare and states administer the federal programs. People who receive welfare without entitlement are committing fraud, which is a very serious crime that is always charged under federal statute.
Laws and Penalties
The law governing welfare fraud is 42 U.S. Code Section 608a. However, states also have their own laws and people who are convicted of welfare fraud may also be convicted of another crime, most notably theft. This is because they obtain public money without entitlement, which means they are steeling from the state and from the American taxpayers. Also, when an application for welfare is made, people have to sign their application under oath. This means that, if the information is incorrect, they are also committing perjury.
The punishment for theft, perjury, and welfare fraud can be very significant. They generally include imprisonment, fines, and/or restitution of the money that has been received. Additionally, those who have been convicted can usually no longer apply for further welfare for between 10 years and the rest of their lives. If the welfare fraud is committed by people who are not U.S. citizens, they are likely to be deported and to be denied re-entry for life.
The severity of the punishment depends on the type of fraud they committed, how they were able to do so, how much money they were able to get, how long they continued to commit fraud, and personal circumstances. If one person is convicted of fraud, however, the rest of his or her family is not penalized, unless it is proven that they played a part in it. Usually, prior convictions also play a huge role in determining the level of crime and the appropriate penalty, with the harshest penalties being reserved for those who are repeat welfare fraud offenders.
In Ohio, theft can be classed as a misdemeanor of the first degree, only if the stolen property and/or services was worth less than $1,000. This is under Ohio Rev. Code Ann. Section 2913.02(B)(2). The punishment here is a fine of up to $1,000 and a prison sentence of up to 180 days.
It can also be a felony of the fifth degree theft, however. This happens if the value is between $1,000 and $7,500. In this case, a prison sentence of between six and 12 months can be imposed, as well as a fine of up to $2,500.
Even more serious is a felony of the fourth degree theft, also known as grand theft. This is if the welfare fraud was of a value between $7,500 and $150,000. The punishment is imprisonment of between six and 18 months, as well as a fine up to $5,000.
Up from there is the felony of the third degree theft or aggravated theft, which happens when the value exceeds $150,000 but does not exceed $750,000. Aggravated theft is punishable by a prison sentence of between one and five years and/or a fine of up to $10,000.
Then, there is felony of the second degree theft or aggravated theft, which means the value was above $750,000, but below $1,500,000. This is rare, but not unheard of, in welfare fraud cases. A prison term of between two and eight years can be imposed, as well as a fine of up to $15,000.
Lastly, there is the felony of the first degree or aggravated theft, again pretty much unheard of within welfare fraud laws, but processes have to be put in place. If the value is over $1,500,000, then first degree aggravated theft will have occurred. This can lead to a sentence of between three and 11 years, as well as a fine of up to $20,000.
Restitution is common on top of the prison sentences and fines.
Welfare Fraud Defenses
There are a number of defenses used in welfare fraud cases. These include:
- Not having fraudulent intent, although this is very difficult to prove
- Insufficient evidence, which is also hard to prove as most prosecutors will not put a trial forward unless they know they have the necessary evidence
- Mistaken identity or false accusations, which are more likely to be successful.
- Making restitution agreements by admitting guilt
Statute of Limitations
The statute of limitations is 5 years from the date of discovery of the fraud, not the day it was committed.