Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Inquiry uncovers Head Start fraud

USA Today reports:
Undercover investigators trying to enroll a handful of fictitious children in federally funded Head Start child care centers found that in about half of the cases, workers fraudulently misrepresented parents' incomes, addresses and other information to allow kids to qualify for a slot.

In one instance, according to the investigators' report, a Head Start worker in New Jersey handed back one of two pay stubs and told an investigator posing as a parent, "Now you see it, now you don't."

Prompted by anonymous tips to a fraud hotline, investigators with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) looked at centers in six states — California, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin — and the District of Columbia. In 13 of 15 cases, they tried to enroll children whose family incomes made them ineligible. In two more, families qualified, but the GAO wanted to find out whether Head Start would count children as enrolled even if they never attended the program. In all, investigators found fraud in eight cases.

The revelations, contained in congressional testimony presented Tuesday to the House Education and Labor Committee, come at a sensitive time for Head Start. Established in 1965 as part of President Lyndon Johnson's War on Poverty, the program received $7.2 billion from Congress this year to serve 900,000 children in 1,600 centers. The stimulus law added $2.1 billion to create 59,000 more slots.
Imagine that.