By Daily Press Editorial Board
Daily Press reporter Shea Johnson's January investigation on welfare fraud found the number of cases referred by San Bernardino County's Human Services Department to the District Attorney's Office had dropped 70 percent since 2013.
But since that Special Report, changes have been made in the county.
We're happy to see the District Attorney's office has implemented nine protocols since May that should put a dent in what had become a "rampant" and multi-million dollar problem, according to county officials.
And First District Supervisor Robert Lovingood has met with the DA's office 10 times since March to develop and improve policies.
• A suspect's criminal history is now factored in when determining whether or not to refer a case to the DA.
• Human Services automatically sends cases to the DA when it is determined "intent to defraud" exists.
• Welfare fraud sweeps are increasing, especially here in the High Desert.
• The relationship between Human Services, which oversees the investigative unit that tackles welfare fraud, and the DA's office is improving.
These are essential steps in tackling a crime that was made easier by California voters' approval of Proposition 47 in 2014. Prop 47 reduced the severity of welfare fraud from a felony to petty theft. That made it tougher for prosecutors to get meaningful sentences and led to an increase to administrative hearings rather than prosecutions.
The tide is now turning on that trend, it appears, thanks to the desire by Lovingood and District Attorney Mike Ramos to prosecute those who are stealing from the county's taxpayers.
"When we see intentional fraud and criminal actions, we want that action prosecuted," Lovingood said.
We think San Bernardino County taxpayers wholeheartedly agree.
There seems nothing as galling as defrauding a program meant to help those in society least able to help themselves.
Yet every time someone commits welfare fraud, it jeopardizes the willingness of the taxpaying public to continue to fund these social programs.
We commend Lovingood and Ramos for turning up the heat on welfare cheats and those who would steal from the taxpayer. We also commend the Human Services Department for working with prosecutors to ensure the worst of the worst are targeted and brought to justice.
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