The U.S. House has released a report from the General Accounting Office (GAO) that found potential fraud in LIHEAP. During an investigation conducted by GAO over the past year, investigators audited 7 states and found names of 11,000 dead people and hundreds of prisoners used as applicants for funds. More than 1,000 federal employees whose federal salary exceeded maximum income threshold received benefits and in several cases, people living in million-dollar houses received benefits.
About 9 percent of households receiving benefits—totaling $116 million—in the selected states contained invalid identity information, such as Social Security numbers, names, or dates of birth. Although some of these cases are likely due to simple errors such as typos or incomplete data, the GAO said, thousands of other cases show strong indications of fraud and improper benefits.
Below are examples of fraudulent or improper activity in LIHEAP that GAO uncovered:
- “Illinois provided $540 in energy assistance to an applicant who fraudulently used the identities of two deceased family members to qualify for LIHEAP.
- “Illinois provided $840 in energy assistance to a U.S. Postal Service employee who fraudulently reported zero income to qualify for LIHEAP. Despite earning about $80,000 per year, the employee stated that she saw ‘long lines’ of individuals applying for LIHEAP benefits and wanted the ‘free money.’
- “New Jersey provided $3,200 in energy assistance to a nursing home facility whose director claimed to represent eight patients residing in the facility. These patients had their nursing home care paid by Medicaid.
- “Posing as low-income residents, landlords and an energy company, GAO used bogus addresses and fabricated energy bills, pay stubs and other documents to apply for energy assistance. All fraudulent claims were processed and the energy assistance payments were issued to our bogus landlords and company.”
A copy of the GAO report titled Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program: Greater Fraud Prevention Controls Are Needed can be found at www.gao.gov/new.items/d10621.pdf.
In the meantime, the National Energy Assistance Directors’ Association (NEADA) has issued a press release about the GAO report. NEADA said that all state LIHEAP directors strongly support the accurate and appropriate awarding of grants funds and that NEADA is part of a joint task force, along with HHS, that is addressing issues of waste, fraud and abuse in LIHEAP.
The states are requesting full access from GAO to the files in question in order to assess the accuracy of the review, develop appropriate measures to prevent waste, and eliminate weaknesses in the in-take system.