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Dispatches from public radio's correspondent at the Washington Legislature. Austin Jenkins is the Olympia correspondent for the Northwest News Network. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) weekly public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Fighting Public Welfare Fraud In Washington Keeps State Investigators Busy

Fraud investigators in Washington state say they expect to announce a major case of public welfare theft next month.

Food stamp theft and misuse of welfare benefits happens every day in Washington state. The job of stopping it falls to the three-year-old Office of Fraud and Accountability within the Department of Social and Health Services.

In one year alone, the team investigated more than 4,000 criminal fraud cases and referred nearly 300 of them for prosecution. Add to that the hundreds of welfare fraud tips that come into a hotline each month.

Steve Lowe, a former county prosecutor who heads the fraud office, acknowledged there’s still a lot more work to do.

“We’ve been so busy on the criminal cases trying to put criminal cases [together], it’s been so much work," he said. "I have 11 criminal investigators, they each have an average caseload now of 40 cases.”

The Fraud office also gets more than 7,000 requests per year to review suspicious applications for public benefits.

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."