Statement by Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Regarding the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP)
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, June 18, 2010
Contact: HHS Press Office
I am very disturbed by the findings in an upcoming GAO report on the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) that found instances in which benefits were given to ineligible individuals and areas where the program could be vulnerable to fraud. Public resources are limited, and a dollar spent on ineligible families is one less dollar available for those who genuinely need help.
This Department has zero tolerance for fraud. All cases of suspected LIHEAP fraud will be turned over to the HHS Inspector General. In addition, HHS has been taking major steps to work with states to prevent fraud and abuse in order to ensure program integrity.
On May 5, in a break with prior policy, HHS issued new guidance strongly encouraging states to require LIHEAP applicants to provide Social Security Numbers as a condition of receiving assistance. States were also advised to make enhanced use of state prisoner databases and other existing databases, such as the Social Security Administration’s Enumeration Verification System, to verify the identities of applicants.
Earlier this month, HHS asked all states to supplement their LIHEAP plans for the coming fiscal year with information on the mechanisms they will use to prevent waste, fraud and abuse. HHS will work with state LIHEAP programs and state governments to pinpoint areas of vulnerability and to disseminate best practices. HHS will also seriously consider legislative proposals that mandate state action to address fraud and abuse in the program.
Fighting fraud and ensuring program integrity are central to the mission of HHS. Last month I created the first-ever Secretary’s Council on Program Integrity, comprised of the heads of every division within the Department. This Council brings together the Department’s senior leadership on a regular basis to conduct risk assessments of programs or operations most vulnerable to waste, fraud and abuse; to enhance existing program integrity initiatives or create new ones; to share best program integrity practices throughout HHS; and to measure the results of these efforts. I hold this Council accountable for working closely with the Inspector General, and for providing me with practical solutions to address longstanding program integrity issues.
Additionally, HHS has created a “hotline” on the website of the Administration for Children and Families (the agency responsible for administering LIHEAP) to enable citizens – including government employees - who want to do the right thing to tell us if they have reason to believe that funds are being misused in any ACF program.
This Department has an obligation to be good stewards of the American people’s tax dollars, and HHS is firmly committed to fulfilling that responsibility. It is essential that we do everything in our power to ensure the vital resources we administer are reaching the people who need them most, and to protect the low-income families, seniors, and people with disabilities who depend on LIHEAP.