Township supervisor cuts clients with forged, missing records
URBANA — Dozens of welfare clients who had forged or missing documents have been wiped from the general assistance rolls in Cunningham Township since Supervisor Michelle Mayol took over the office last year.
She said the purge will save the township $166,000 annually in welfare recipients who should not have been receiving checks.
Mayol took over as township supervisor last May after former Supervisor Carol Elliott did not run for reelection. Mayol had worked in the small office for 18 years prior.
She said she started suspecting something was wrong as the list of general assistance clients grew from 70 or 80 monthly in 2010 to a peak 178 in March 2013.
"I have known how the trend has gone over those 18 years, so I know when the case load got up to 170-some, that's not right," Mayol said Wednesday.
In past meetings of the Cunningham Township Board, whose membership is identical to the Urbana City Council because the two municipalities have the same borders, the former township supervisor explained the spike in welfare clients as a side-effect of the economic recession.
General assistance is the main service provided by the township. Its clients, generally the poorest people in Urbana, receive a $245 check each month to pay for basic living needs not covered by other services like food stamps and subsidized housing: Things like toilet paper and soap, among other items.
Mayol did not retain the office's caseworker after she was elected to the position last spring, and she worked with a new caseworker — one who had been employed by Cunningham Township for eight years prior to that — to pore through each client's file.
"I just sat down with her and said we need to go through all of these files and make sure that everything has been turned in for them to be recipients," Mayol said.
They discovered that many were not in compliance with probation or parole orders, had submitted forged documents or were missing workforce compliance verification. Some had not proven that they actually lived in Cunningham Township. All of those are required for general assistance recipients to continue receiving monthly checks.
Township officials started setting up meetings with those clients. Some called and canceled their general assistance on their own. Others went missing.
"There were just some that didn't show up for their appointments, didn't bring anything in, and we didn't even hear from them," Mayol said.
The township was back down to 70 clients as of April 30 this year from the peak of 178 in March 2013. Of those who had their general assistance canceled, four or five appealed to a county public aid appeals committee. None of those former clients won on appeal.
That goes to show what was happening, Mayol said.
"If our case load is down 100 from this time last year, and people thought they were being wrongfully terminated, we would have had a lot more appeals," Mayol said.
Mayol chooses her words carefully in explaining who was to blame and whether anyone knew what was going on prior to the purge.
"The caseworker that handled the high case load was not as literal as I am in following the rules," Mayol said. "Before I took office I encountered some situations where the caseworker was not as precise as I thought was desirable."
Mayol asked for $166,000 less in the general assistance line item when she submitted her budget to the town board this week. That's because of the drop in the number of cases, she said.
The effort earned the compliments of a couple Cunningham Township Board members. Board member Carol Ammons, however, wanted to make sure that the $166,000 budget decrease will not affect the township's ability to assist people who legitimately qualify.
It will not affect that ability, Mayol said — the township is legally required to provide assistance to those who qualify regardless of whether it is in the budget.
Board member Michael Madigan said he wonders how long the lax oversight had been going on and he thanked Mayol for enforcing the law.
"Township assistance is important for those who need it," Madigan said. "If you cannot prove the need, you should not be subsidized, in my opinion."
Mayol said she was just trying to make sure everything was being done the right way.
"I wanted to do everything I could to save the taxpayers money," Mayol said. "I will help anybody that I can help, but if you don't meet the qualifications that are set in the handbook that we follow, you're not eligible."