05/19/2010 // West Palm Beach, Florida, USA // Nicole Howley // Nicole Howley
Washington, D.C.—Workers of a federally funded child care program are being accused of fraud after an undercover investigation found that workers would alter applications with fictitious information so that the child could enroll. Employees of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) program, Head Start, allegedly misrepresented parents’ incomes, addresses and other information so that their child could qualify for the program, as reported by USA Today.
A fraud hotline received an anonymous tip that prompted the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct an investigation into the Head Start centers in six states—California, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, Wisconsin and the District of Columbia.
Investigators noted that in one instance, a New Jersey Head Start worker “handed back one of two pay stubs and told the investigator posing as a parent, ‘Now you see it, now you don’t.’” In total, investigators allegedly found fraud in eight of the 15 cases, in which they tried to enroll fictitious children.
In addition the GAO uncovered:
• Head Start employees at eight centers “actively encourage” fictitious families to misrepresent their eligibility.
• In about four cases, the Head Start applications were “doctored” to exclude income information.
• A part of the families’ income was “knowingly disregarded” at seven of the centers by workers.
• Employees at two centers falsely stated that one parent was unemployed of the application.
This discovery comes at a bad time for the program considering Head Start received $7.2 billion from Congress this year to operate the program.
Gregory Kutz of the GAO testified at the House Education and Labor Committee on May 18, that the investigation did not turn over any evidence that the employees or their friends and families benefited personally from the falsified applications. Kutz believed that supervisors probably intimated staffers to increase enrollment in under-enrolled centers. Kutz noted that the investigation was only conducted at centers where there were vacancies in the program.
The Head Start Program provides comprehensive education, health, nutrition, and parent involvement services to low-income children and their families.
Legal News Reporter: Nicole Howley