April 25,2001

Grassley Pledges to Help Stop Undeserved Benefits to Prisoners, Fugitives

WASHINGTON – Sen. Chuck Grassley, chairman of the Committee on Finance, today saidhe will work to help stop the flow of millions of dollars in government cash assistance and benefitsto prisoners, fugitives, the deceased and other ineligible people.

“It just doesn’t meet the common sense test to have taxpayers supporting a fugitive fromjustice in his run from the police,” Grassley said. “That has to change. The taxpayers already funda housing option for convicts. It’s called prison.”

Grassley’s comments came after a hearing at which a committee investigation revealed thatan estimated $790 million a year -- and as much as $831 million -- is wasted through just 12 benefitprograms at the Department of Health and Human Services and the Social Security Administration.For example, Social Security’s cash assistance for the needy program pays $30 million a year tofugitive felons. The agency’s program for the disabled pays another $39 million a year to fugitivefelons.

The committee heard from a convicted armed robber who received $29,000 in improperSocial Security payments over 41 months after he stopped seeing his parole officer. The moneyhelped to sustain him as a fugitive from 1997 until last month, when he was arrested for violatinghis parole. The man, Jerome Horn, is now in jail in Newark, N.J. Horn said, “Yes, I did know thatI was a fugitive and that the parole people were looking for me, but I didn’t know that there wasanything wrong with me getting my monthly (Social Security) checks.”

Grassley said Horn’s situation exemplifies the inadequacies that lead to improper payments.Federal, state and local governments often lack the technical capacities to communicate federalbenefit information and eligibility status to each other. Apart from technical issues, improperpayments result from insufficient oversight, weak internal controls and late or non-existent systemchecks.

For example, Congress passed a law in 1996 prohibiting Social Security cash assistance tofugitive felons or parole violators, Grassley said. The law was meant to involve all states in a datamatchingproject to prevent fugitives from receiving federal payments while evading localauthorities. Five years later, far from all 50 states are part of this project, Grassley said.

Grassley said he will take several steps to plug the benefit leaks to undeserving recipients:

< He will ask for quarterly updates from both the Department of Health and Human Servicesand the Social Security Administration on their progress in implementing numerousrecommendations from agency inspector generals on how to fix these problems.

< He will study whether Congress should address any of these problems through legislation.He said if a new law actually would help to end improper payments, he would pursue it.

< He will ask the General Accounting Office to determine the barriers to effectivecommunication and transfer of information between federal, state and local governments andways to ease those barriers.

“The Social Security and Medicare programs don’t have a penny to spare for undeservingpeople,” Grassley said. “They’re already being squeezed to the limit, and that will only get worsewhen the baby boomers retire. Now is the time to nip this problem in the bud.”