COLUMBUS — Thousands of Ohio welfare recipients who were overpaid more than 10 years ago are being informed that they will have to repay that money to the state.
The overpayments are not the result of fraud, and most resulted from administrative errors by government workers, The Columbus Dispatch reported Wednesday. An example would be a welfare recipient who might have reported a change in income to his caseworker that would have reduced the benefit, but that information wasn't logged before the monthly check was mailed, the newspaper reported.
The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services estimates it has sent out 14,000 notices involving about $18 million in welfare money overpaid before 2001, and an estimated 8,000 Ohioans owe an additional $8.4 million in food-stamp overpayments that are more than 10 years old, according to the newspaper.
A retired construction worker in Athens County in southern Ohio says he received a letter telling him he had 30 days to repay $248 he received in error in 1985 or risk having that amount withheld from his state tax return.
"I know the country is broke and they've got to do something, but they are going about it the wrong way by taking from people who need the help the most," said Dave Jenkinson, 64, of Albany. He says he doesn't remember asking for cash assistance or cashing a check.
"They blame me like it's my fault," he said.
Jenkinson said he plans to repay the money to avoid further problems.
The state Department of Job and Family Services this year removed its former 10-year limitation for collecting overpayments of welfare — a joint state and federal benefit — to be consistent with a change at the federal level, said Benjamin Johnson, spokesman for the state agency.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture last year lifted the 10-year limitation for collecting food-stamp overpayments, benefits funded entirely by the federal government.
Automation has now made it easier to find people and collect money that is owed, Joel Potts, executive director of the Ohio Job and Family Services Directors Association said.
Counties can keep up to 50 percent of the welfare money it collects, and the rest will be shared by the state and federal governments. Those who don't repay the food-stamp money face having it withheld from their federal tax return or other federal benefits, including Social Security.
County caseworkers across Ohio have received hundreds of calls since the state began sending out the collection letters.
Jack Frech, director of the Athens County Department of Job and Family Services, said it's "ridiculous" to try to collect relatively small amounts from so many years ago from people who probably don't have the money and never committed a crime.
Most of the overpayments sought in Athens County are less than $500, and the smallest is $78.
"For the most part, we are recovering money for our mistakes," Frech said