In the past year, Itasca and Koochiching counties recovered $144,000 after 113 investigations of welfare fraud. Eight of those investigations were forwarded for criminal charges.

During a meeting of the Itasca County Board this week, Business Division manager Christine Klebs gave a report on welfare fraud. She explained that the county's lone investigator works hard to investigate every referral that comes to her. The investigator is contracted through the State of Minnesota to provide services to both Itasca and Koochiching counties. Welfare programs monitored include SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) or food support, MFIB (Minnesota Family Investment Program) for low-income families, Child Care Assistance Program and Medical Assistance. The investigator relies heavily on referrals or reports of possible fraud and erroneously paid benefits.

Of the 113 cases investigated during the state's fiscal year reporting, Krebs said the county recovered $24,000 in restitution from one case alone.

Krebs explained that the state provides a grant for the investigator’s work and evaluates a county's investigative performance on two main criteria including cost to benefit ratio.

"Itasca County has, on average, exceeded the state ratio for the last six years," she said. "They also watch the number of days it takes to close a case."

Krebs says the county is "well under" the average for closing cases.

As has been explained to the board in the past, the most effective way to prevent money from reaching those ineligible for assistance is public awareness and reporting of suspicious behavior. Welfare fraud is committed when someone intentionally lies about who they live with in order to receive benefits when they are not eligible or lies about income or assets. According to investigators, 65 percent of fraud involves people being untruthful about their household composition; 20 percent is non-reporting of income or assets; and the rest is typically sale of EBT (food support) cards for cash and non-reporting of change of state residency.

In cases of blatant, intentional program violation and dollar amounts that reach felony-level charges, the county will pursue criminal charges.

"Wonderful job," commented Commissioner Burl Ives who said he'd like to see the county have more than one investigator because "I think there's more out there than 113 cases."

Itasca County Attorney Matti Adam also commended the agency in their work to investigate referrals and explained that it takes a coordinated approach to bring cases to the level of criminal prosecution which involves the county attorney's office.

"Part of our goal is to recover restitution," said Adam.

To report suspicious activity or to make a referral for investigation, call 218-327-6191 or 1-800-422-0312.

In other business during the board's regular Oct. 8 meeting, commissioners:

Recognized county employee Scott Thompson whose last day of employment with the Assessor’s Department was Aug. 27, 2019, after more than seven years of service.

Approved commissioner warrants of $2,475,596.41 with a check date of Oct. 11, 2019.

Adopted a resolution proclaiming Oct. 6-12 as 4-H Week in Itasca County, as is celebrated nationwide. According to the proclamation: “4-H has helped 420 youth in Itasca County become confident, independent, resilient and compassionate leaders.”

Adopted a resolution proclaiming Oct. 24 as Lights on Afterschool in Itasca County, in cooperation with the national celebration of promoting the importance of quality afterschool programs for children, families and communities. Lights on Afterschool in Itasca County is coordinated by Itasca Networks for Youth, Itasca Area Community Education, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Grand Rapids and Greenway and other afterschool programs. There are several events scheduled at area schools for Oct. 23, Oct. 24, and Oct. 28 in celebration of Lights on Afterschool in Itasca County.

Heard citizen concerns regarding the county’s Jail Task Force committee and transparency regarding discussion and decisions by this body. Board Chair Davin Tinquist assured citizens that the commissioners will review any recommendations from the committee regarding construction or renovation of the jail and allow for public input prior to making any final decisions on the matter.

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