- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Recent editorials from Louisiana newspapers:

July 8

The News-Star, Monroe, Louisiana, on state auditor:

About $1.3 million in federal food card benefits were used fraudulently in Louisiana after the legal recipients died, a state audit has found.

The audit looked at Louisiana Purchase food cards assigned to one-person households during the four years ending June 30, 2013. It found that 3,938 were used after the person’s death.

Unfortunately, that misuse feeds the public’s perception that inadequate controls exist over food stamp benefits. Taxpaying citizens are particularly concerned about the Louisiana Purchase debit cards, and we are happy to see the Legislative Auditor’s Office taking a hard look at those expenditures.

The Department of Children and Family Services arranged in April to get daily death records from the state health department, Secretary Suzy Sonnier said in a reply dated June 25 and filed with the July 2 audit. She said the department is working to automate a check of Social Security numbers against people getting Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program benefits.

She noted that $1.3 million amounts to less than 1 percent of Louisiana’s SNAP benefits to single-person households during the four years studied.

More than $556,000 - about 43 percent of the total - was spent four months or more after the recipient’s death, according to the audit. Nearly $273,000, or 21 percent, was spent in the first month, the audit said.

“According to DCFS, it would be difficult to prevent all improper spending in the first month after death because of the amount of time it takes for a death record to become available to DCFS,” the auditors wrote.

They also noted that no federal program lets the department wipe out benefits loaded onto a card until they have been on the card for a year.

“This could lead to misspending by others after the participant’s death,” the auditors wrote.

Sonnier wrote that the department’s fraud and recovery unit is investigating the identified cases and will do all it can to get back the money and prosecute whoever used the cards.

But auditors noted that the department said the chance of getting back the money is low because, with only one person in the household, there’s nobody left to investigate for fraud.

We disagree. The department needs to investigate which family member or caregiver used the card. It’s a small circle when there is only one person in a household.

It’s a drop in the big bucket, granted. But the more that people know fraud is being detected and prosecuted, the less likely they will be tempted to misuse the benefits.

And for the ordinary, tax-paying citizens, aggressive prosecution of this type of fraud is what we expect.




July 8

The Daily Star, Hammond, Louisiana, on better citizenship:

Whether they’re Republicans or Democrats, one thing a growing number of American citizens share is distrust of the major political parties. According to a recent Associated Press-GfK poll, one-quarter of Republicans and 13 percent of Democrats said they dislike their own party. A majority of survey respondents gave unfavorable views to both Democrats and Republicans, and a quarter of them said they dislike both parties.

The poll found 35 percent trusted neither party to handle the federal budget and 34 percent trusted neither Democrats nor Republicans to manage the federal government or address the concerns of average citizens. The poll asked respondents if they had faith in either party to handle economy, immigration, health care, the nation’s reputation among other countries and seven other key issues. More than 1 in 5 said no.

Even so, people still choose to affiliate with a political party. The two strongest reasons cited in the survey were long-time identity with the party and belief in party ideology despite unhappiness with certain aspects. Americans who call themselves Republicans think of themselves as conservatives, and those who describe themselves as Democrats connect with liberalism. Citizens in general associate Republicans with being supporters of the wealthy and businesses and supporters of small goverment. They associate Democrats with being supporters of working people, bigger government or more spending.

As citizens unhappy with government and distrusting of elected officials, we often point a finger at “them” and forget that most of our fingers are pointing back at “us.” Let’s ask ourselves a few questions: Am I a registered voter? Do I actively read newspapers and follow other media or social networks to keep up with election dates and to know what’s on the ballots? Do I make a real effort to learn about the candidates and the issues? Do I think about it and make my own decisions, or do I base my decisions on what my friends think? Am I among the 10 or less percent who actually vote in elections? How can I expect my elected leaders to be honest if I’m not honest with myself? How can I expect them to do better if I don’t do a better job of selecting them, monitoring them, giving them guidance and demanding accountability?

We can complain about politics, politicians and our country’s downward spiral, but our words are just hot air if we are not informed, participating citizens.

This country already has plenty of hot air. What’s needed is change, and change doesn’t happen in Washington or Baton Rouge. It happens where we live. Change happens with each citizen, each vote, one by one.

Candidates for Tangipahoa Parish School Board, Hammond mayor and Hammond city council are already campaigning for the Nov. 4 election. Let’s start learning about them as well as the proposals to change the Tangipahoa Parish charter. Let’s stop by the registrar of voters offices in Hammond or Amite to become a registered voter if we are not already, and call the registrar’s office to provide information about any changes in voter identification. Now is the time.




July 8

American Press, Lake Charles, Louisiana, on social media solving crimes:

The power of social media websites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram is hard to ignore, and while most people use them as a fun and easy way to interact with people they know, they can sometimes prove useful for detectives who are searching for leads in an investigation.

A recent article in the Advocate detailed how a girl’s post on Instagram - a social networking website that lets people take photos and videos and share them with others - led detectives to a key witness in the case involving a March shooting at a birthday bash in Baker that left three teens dead.

The girl told police she could identify the alleged shooter. With help from a search warrant, detectives were able to look through certain information on her Instagram profile. They could find out if she changed her password and also seek “financial data associated with the account, photos or other uploaded materials that might have been deleted and other registration information.”

Capt. Doug Cain, a spokesman for Louisiana State Police said “people will go on social media and brag about acts that they’ve committed.” He said that if police “have access to it and find it, we’re going to make that part of a case.”

Another example of how social media can assist in an investigation occurred in late April. Investigators with the Louisiana Department of Justice’s Fugitive Apprehension Unit arrested a New Orleans woman “accused of filing a fraudulent tax return in the name of a professional athlete.” She was arrested within one week of investigators obtaining “geolocation information and private messages connected” to her Facebook profile.

According to a survey issued last year by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, “Eighty-six percent of law enforcement agencies are using social media in criminal investigations, up from 62 percent in 2010.” It also found that more than half use Facebook “to create fake profiles for undercover investigations, which actually is a violation of the website’s terms of use.”

The Louisiana State Police Facebook page has more than 75,000 “likes,” and Cain said that they get tips from other Facebook users that have led to arrests.

As more law enforcement agencies are using social media, more are turning to formal instruction to learn the ins and outs of using the websites. LAwS is a Massachusetts organization that hosts conferences to teach law enforcement how to use and monitor social media websites.

Nancy Kolb, a senior program manager at the International Association of Chiefs of Police, said that social media “has really become an integral part of what law enforcement does, both from an investigative standpoint and for community outreach and engagement.”

She’s right, and as long as people keep using social media websites, the more law enforcement will use them as another tool to help solve crimes. Those agencies who aren’t using them to aid in their investigations could be missing out on some key information that could lead to an arrest.



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