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The Untold Story of Welfare Fraud

The Untold Story of Welfare Fraud reviews the consequences of the implementation of the law concerning provision of financial aid to poor families. It reveals the imperfect character of the law which actually left no way out for people as they had to choose whether to keep to the law or to leave their families without food. According to Abramovitz (1988), women were not enough protected by the government and its laws as they could not make their own living without men.

The following article presents two types of variables which are essential for understanding of the welfare fraud and the implementation of the Welfare Fraud Diversion Program. The dependent variable is the amount of people who broke the law subject to difficult life circumstances as well as those who were convicted of welfare frauds and received criminal records without breaking the law. The independent variables are the complexity of the application and compliance procedures, the sex and education level of the parents accused of welfare frauds, illegal actions of the controlling authorities.

The article shows that the amount of frauds was influenced by the implementation of strict limits and measures which were in fact aimed at decreasing of the number of people enjoying state financial aid.

The unit of analysis of this study is the process of law enforcement that was caused by the present law which was aimed at making an exact division according to the degree of the conducted crimes. According to Gatta (2005), the other reviewed issue is the impact of the welfare reform to the number of related crimes. According to the article, low-income women were greatly influenced by the law. Their lives and future of their families was under the risk of extinction because of low quality level of life and financial problems which occurred at those times. The article describes “the realities of the women caught in the web of welfare fraud prosecution after the 1996 changes to the welfare law”. O’Connor (2001) presents a kind of knowledge “grounded in practice, in activism, and in the experience not only of the material deprivation but on the everyday workings of the economy”. The influence of the imperfect law on the number of violations was researched through the quantitative and qualitative study of the welfare frauds' cases.

The authors conducted a content analysis of the Public Defender’s welfare fraud case files for the year 2001. They also researched qualitative data of the year 2005. It was done in order to find out any differences which could have taken place since the conduction of the first research in 2001. The results of both studies were used to create the complete image of reasons leading to fraud conviction.

According to the case study the people accused of welfare frauds may be divided into several groups. The first group involves people who intentionally broke the law in order to receive money. Usually, they pretended to be mistreated or mislead social workers about their actual income and, thus, cheated the government.

The second group comprises of people who did everything possible to keep to the law but could not provide information about the income of their spouses or partners as they did not keep in touch with them. Applicants also often violated the rules as they could not clearly understand the procedure of income reporting. Such cases were very common taking into account that all women accused of welfare fraud did not attend colleges. In some cases the profit of the family in the subsequent month was higher than the financial aid threshold and woman was consequently accused of welfare fraud though her annual income was still far below the poverty line. Those people did not have any intension to abuse the law or to commit a crime. Nevertheless, they were assumed to be guilty and received the same status of criminals as those people who had conducted welfare frauds intentionally.

The third group includes individuals who were not allowed to provide any information about incomes of their spouses or partners. Such cases were also very common and usually husbands threatened their wives for reporting additional incomes. Women did not have any choice as the only income was brought by their husbands.

The study of the cases of the second and third groups shows that those people did not commit any crimes but their criminalization was caused by the wrong government's policy. The government tried to stop the wave of law violations, and enforced so strict reporting and supervision policy that non-guilty people were charged of fraud as well. The amount of criminal records was so high at that period that supervising authorities had no time to check whether crime was intentional or non-intentional. Accused people had no funds for legal assistance and could not protect themselves properly. Consequently, people saw only the increasing number of criminals without the context producing this figure. It was widely used for justification of the law reform.

In addition to the proceeding costs burden that was taken by non guilty individuals their criminal record precluded them from finding sufficient jobs and made them apply for the governmental aid and again commit fraud. Besides, authorities has developed special measures that allowed convicting of welfare fraud but at the same time violated the privacy of aid receivers. The “man in the house” method is an example of such methods that were widely used for looking for law-breakers. In case a man was found in the house of a woman receiving financial aid she was incriminated under report of income for the purpose of welfare fraud.

It looked like a circle of poverty. The dependent variable of crimes' quantity was clearly influenced by the independent variables mentioned above. In diachronic perspective, such enforcement of rules and laws may be compared with the actions that lead to the discrimination.

The methods applied by the authors allowed revealing the possible sexism and division for gender roles. It turned out that fathers convicted of welfare frauds were subject to civil responsibility while mothers were accused of crimes. This clearly proves gender discrimination. Nevertheless, these results were not discussed in the paper though they worth further consideration.

The selection of the sample in the first study of 2001 cases may evidence that the authors managed to analyze comparatively small amount of information. On the other hand, such statistic data cannot be considered to be the only possible source of information as it does not give the whole picture of the problem. As it can be seen from the actual study, the roots of the problem may be found deep in the history. Consequently, the whole period starting from the implementation of the law until the present time should be analyzed for the clear understanding of the problem. The method of comparison of two different studies makes it easier to forecast future development of the law and allows scientists finding out the ways of the program's improvement.

Despite the authors were good in the choice of variables, the system of their conclusions may become unstable if other factors will be chosen as key factors. There are other potential variables which might slightly change the prospective the research got. This research is based on the data collected in San Diego, California and the results may be different in other states of the US. The level of welfare fraud would be different in different states and correlates with the criminal rate of the state. The amount of welfare frauds may also vary taking into consideration the amount of working places and the average quality of life in the state. In such case, the research described in The Untold Story of Welfare Fraud would not reflect the situation in the US. In addition, the correlation between the amount of welfare frauds and a number of poor families should be researched. Perhaps the increasing number of frauds was caused not only by strict measures but also by the increased number of poor families. Finally, the share of second and third groups was not indicated in the study that excludes the possibility of the comparative assessment of the negative effects of the governmental policy.

The problem of the interconnection between the legal status of people under financial aid and suspicions regarding their income level and the rate of the actual help from the government should be taken into consideration as the problem of discrimination according to the social status. The law enforcement system does not give any possibility for poor people to get out of the trouble they got in. It becomes difficult for them to find a well-paid job and to earn enough money for living. In addition, the law providing financial aid to ordinary people should be understandable for them. As it was already mentioned the reason of numerous violations was the lack of understanding of the law. To summarize everything mentioned, it would be useful to appeal to the law system and to make the process of helping people less difficult for understanding. As a result, the law would not be broken by people on a regular basis just because of the large amount of details but instead it will bring a clear vision of the line which separates law obeying citizens from criminals.

The research might be continued in the future on the basis of the data collected from all over the country but not from the only city as the welfare reform spreads across the US. According to the research, it may be said that the general picture of issues related to the past welfare reform is presented, however additional surveys showing the state of things at the present moment should be conducted. The fast development of the legislation makes even slightly out of date information irrelevant for the research. It may be made in cooperation with politics and attorneys from the whole country. Each state may create a group which would focus on collecting of the data about this issue in order to form a precise picture of the legal environment in the country. They may also make proposals to legislative bodies concerning improvement of the law in accordance with the principle of stability of the functioning and the suitability for citizens. The general attitude towards poor people also needs to be reestablished as the present one indirectly makes them live in poverty and does not involve any cooperation with government and the police.

In conclusion, it is worth mentioning that the research perfectly shows what is going on in the city but not nationwide. The implementation of the welfare reform is a next step on the way to the era of law and justice. Nevertheless, the violation of the law is caused not only by unintentional actions but also by the intentional ones. Consequently, the reduction of the welfare frauds' number may be achieved in several ways including elimination of stereotypes concerning poor women obtaining governmental aid. Labeling people is a wrong way of behavior as it leads to wrong statements about others caused by the unsupported generalization. Stigmatizing of a person belonging to certain class is in fact a discrimination which may be eliminated only by the implementation of new social behavior patterns and broadening of the outlook of the members of the society.

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