Con artists using the identities of dead people and prisoners, as well as federal employees and the wealthy, could be bilking as much as $116 million a year from the Low Income Heating Assistance Program (LIHEAP), according to a new Government Accountability Office (GAO) report.
"It looks like a ton of LIHEAP money was disbursed to con artists who applied under the names of convicts and the dead. Even some people living in million-dollar houses got their utility bills paid by the taxpayer," said Rep. Joe Barton of Texas, one of three House Republicans who requested the report from the GAO, the oversight arm of Congress.
The audit covered July 2008 through June 2009 for Illinois, Maryland, Michigan, New Jersey, Ohio and Virginia; and October 2007 through September 2008 for New York. These seven states covered about one third of all LIHEAP funding in fiscal year 2009.
In its investigation, GAO found that more than 11,000 dead people and hundreds of prisoners were used as applicants or household members for LIHEAP benefits. More than 1,000 federal employees whose federal salaries exceeded the maximum income threshold obtained benefits and in several cases, people living in million-dollar homes received LIHEAP assistance, the report said.
LIHEAP, which is administered through the Department of Health and Human Services, costs $5 billion a year and serves 8.3 million low-income houses by providing financial assistance for heating and cooling costs.
"LIHEAP is supposed to be for poor people...It's Secretary [Kathleen] Sebelius' responsibility to run this program right, and she needs to start doing it by stopping this fraud," Barton said.
"This is yet another poster child of waste, fraud and abuse," said Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), who also called on the GAO to investigate the issue.
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