A Washington County program aims to combat public assistance fraud by partnering with law enforcement and conducting ongoing investigations.

Benefits were reduced or stopped in 75 percent of 201 cases during recent investigations that revealed discrepancies in the eligibility of those receiving benefits, said Community Services supervisor Pamela Logan.

The Fraud Prevention Investigation (FPI) program identified nearly $175,000 in overpayments to clients who were essentially disqualified for assistance, she added.

The program's focus is to quickly identify instances where applicants are receiving undeserved benefits, which helps ensure the federal, state and county funding is saved or made available to eligible families.

Some of the most common discrepancies are discovered when parents continue collecting benefits for children they are no longer supporting, Logan said.

Other problems arise when unemployed individuals find work or when assets and the number of children living in the home are incorrectly reported.

There are an estimated 9,000 public assistance cases in Washington County, including food support and cash assistance. The number of individuals in each case varies depending on the family dynamics.

Washington County investigators often discover discrepancies on the front end during the initial application process.

But some of the cases require ongoing follow-ups and renewals. Logan said monthly, biannual or annual check-ins can cause disqualification of food support and other benefits.

"It's frustrating to see this type of fraud going on," Washington County Dist. 1 Commissioner Fran Miron said. "It takes away resources from the people that do need it."

County officials commended Logan and the Community Service Department on the staff's effort to keep the funds saved for county residents who are most eligible for public assistance.

Washington County Board of Commissioners on June 11 approved the 2013-15 FPI plan and grant application to the state of Minnesota, which requires an updated plan each biennium and the submission of a new grant application to continue receiving state and federal funds.