In the 1960’s, President Lyndon B. Johnson declared a “war on poverty,” wherein the United States government would create social programs that provided food assistance, medical care, and other benefits to Americans. This became known as the “Great Society.” These programs were subsequently expanded under Presidents Nixon and Ford.
In addition to federal programs, states initiated their own social programs that were aimed at alleviating lower-class suffering. In Texas, programs such as SNAP, or Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, TANF, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, provide food assistance; Medicaid and CHIP, or Children’s Health Insurance Program, provide medical assistance; CEAP, or the Texas Comprehensive Energy Assistance Program, provides energy assistance to struggling families. Social scientists created a mathematical formula, based on income and cost of living, in determining eligibility for these social welfare programs.
Ronald Reagan’s 1976 Presidential Campaign
While running for the Republican nomination for president in 1976, Ronald Reagan spoke about the a “welfare queen” in his speech. He said: “In Chicago, they found a woman who holds the record. She used 80 names, 30 addresses, 15 telephone numbers to collect food stamps, Social Security, veterans’ benefits for four nonexistent deceased veteran husbands, as well as welfare. Her tax-free cash income alone has been running $150,000 a year.”
The supposed welfare queen was really wealthy but knew how to game the system. This led to a crackdown on people who were otherwise ineligible yet claimed benefits. States, including Texas, tightened the income and eligibility guidelines and passed laws that prescribed tougher penalties for those who defrauded the government through illegal taking of welfare funds.
When the prosecutor alleges welfare fraud, there are various charges that the prosecutor can file against a defendant. If the defendant failed to report income, the prosecutor can charge the defendant with perjury for every time the defendant forwarded an income claim under oath. That means that every time the defendant did not report his or her real income then the defendant committed perjury. This can be a yearly occurrence, depending on the program. Some programs have yearly certifications and some bi-yearly. If a person benefits from numerous programs then, in a fraud context, that person can be facing numerous perjury charges.
In relevant part, the Texas Penal Code provides that Medicaid fraud occurs when“[a] person commits an offense if the person:
(1) knowingly makes or causes to be made a false statement or misrepresentation of a material fact to permit a person to receive a benefit or payment under the Medicaid program that is not authorized or that is greater than the benefit or payment that is authorized;
(2) knowingly conceals or fails to disclose information that permits a person to receive a benefit or payment under the Medicaid program that is not authorized or that is greater than the benefit or payment that is authorized.”
The language is knowingly, thus if a person does not act “knowingly” then no crime was committed. A strong advocate can negotiate with the prosecutor for a lighter sentence, especially when the prosecutor has the burden of proving that the defendant acted knowingly.
Accused of welfare fraud? Contact the law firm of Christopher Abel, a Dallas-area criminal defense attorney.
(image courtesy of Jakub Gorajek)