Dear taxpayers: Thanks for funding housing for these "nonexistent tenants"

In case you didn’t have enough government news guaranteed to either annoy or enrage you, try this one on for size. The federal government spends a massive amount of money either paying for or partially subsidizing public housing for lower income Americans. It’s a set of programs which have always been fraught with problems, but it does at least serve a very real need for some of the most vulnerable citizens. But if we’re going to be spending the money on paying the rent, it would be nice to know that the people benefiting from Uncle Sam’s largess at least… exist, right? Turns out you really can’t assume anything these days. (Free Beacon)

The Department of Housing and Urban Development spent over $500,000 on apartments for people who “did not exist,” according to the agency’s inspector general.

An audit released last month found that managers of Section 8 housing in Jefferson County, Texas, defrauded the government by stealing the identities of former tenants and falsifying incomes.

The government subsidizes the rent of 99 units at Beverly Place Apartments in Groves, Texas, and paid the complex $1.8 million between January 2013 and December 2015.

The HUD Inspector General’s office had a number of things to say about Beverly Place Apartments and other units like it, most of them phrased in rather low-key ways. They assert that the owner billed the government for 97 tenants who either “did not exist or whose income eligibility was either falsified or unsupported.” In other words, some of the residents of Beverly Place probably earned too much money to qualify for subsidized housing. And for the rest of the units, the people supposedly living there were entirely fictional or had moved out some time ago. But the owner was still billing Uncle Sam (or, in other words, billing you the taxpayers) and essentially just pocketing the cash.

We should offer our gratitude to the IG for discovering this and taking steps to recoup the money, but it’s also yet another reminder of how easy it can be for dishonest brokers to get their paws into federal assistance programs and begin making out like a bandit (literally). There’s a reason that one of the first major scams the mafia got into along these lines was Medicare fraud. As long as you can find someone who at least looks relatively “clean” in legal terms and get them to begin submitting fraudulent paperwork, you can start collecting government checks almost immediately and you frequently won’t be caught.

In the case of Beverly Place and the HUD money involved we may have “only” been talking about half a million dollars, but the total being siphoned off of all government assistance programs is staggering. One 2015 report from ABC News revealed that in Medicare alone, there was an estimated $60B (yes, that’s “billion” with a “B”) lost to fraudulent charges in 2014.The rest of the social safety net programs are similarly vulnerable. Perhaps we should be spending a bit less time thinking of new programs to add and investing more in expanding the resources and reach of the Inspectors General so they can start taming this beast. The savings from Medicare alone would probably pay for the wall.