What Will Happen if You Are Charged with Committing Welfare Fraud
The federal and state governments offer certain benefits, typically money or food, to individuals who qualify. Often referred to as welfare programs, these benefits aim to help low-income, disabled, or elderly individuals make ends meet. Common welfare programs include:
- Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF);
- Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP);
- Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP); and
- Disability benefits.
Many recipients receive these benefits through an electronic benefit transfer (EBT) card. The programs keep a stringent list of qualifications to help ensure that recipients are qualified to receive the benefits. In some cases, people commit welfare fraud by misrepresenting their finances, so they fall into the eligible category. Alternatively, some people receive welfare benefits and attempt to re-sell them for cash. Any form of deception you use to obtain welfare benefits that you are not entitled to constitutes welfare fraud.
If you are facing allegations of welfare fraud, contact one of our criminal charges defense lawyers at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices for a free consultation.
What Is Considered Welfare Fraud?
Many clients know about welfare programs but still wonder, What is welfare fraud? New Mexico defines fraud as the intentional misappropriation or taking of anything of value by means of fraudulent conduct, practice, or representations.
Specifically, New Mexico criminalizes the practice of falsely representing oneself as incapacitated. According to the statute, New Mexico prohibits individuals from representing themselves as blind, visually impaired, deaf, or physically disabled for purposes of obtaining money or other items of value.
A common method of welfare fraud involves providing false information on application forms. These applications typically ask about a person’s income, family size, marital status, and other basic information. Providing inaccurate information on these forms can lead to allegations of welfare fraud.
Most public assistance programs require recipients to notify the distribution agency of any material changes in their financial or household situation that could impact their eligibility. For example, if you received a raise at work, you should notify the program you receive benefits from. Additionally, you should notify the agency if you add another family member to your household.
Alternatively, welfare fraud can occur when someone employed by a welfare agency distributes certain benefits despite their awareness that the recipient is ineligible to receive them.
What Happens if I’m Caught by Social Welfare?
If you’re caught by social welfare misrepresenting yourself to get benefits, you could face criminal charges. The charges you face will depend on the value of the wrongfully obtained benefits you accepted.
If the value was $250 or less, New Mexico considers the crime a petty misdemeanor. A petty misdemeanor carries the potential of up to six months in jail and a fine of up to $500. If the value was between $250 and $500, New Mexico considers the crime a misdemeanor. Misdemeanors carry a potential six months to one year in jail, as well as a fine of up to $1,000.
If the value was between $500 and $2,500, New Mexico considers the crime a fourth-degree felony. A fourth-degree felony carries the potential of up to eighteen months in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. If the value was between $2,500 and $20,000, New Mexico considers the crime a third-degree felony. A third-degree felony carries the potential of up to three years in prison and a fine of up to $5,000. If the value was over $20,000, New Mexico considers the crime a second-degree felony. A second-degree felony carries the potential of up to nine years in prison and a fine of up to $10,000.
Additionally, a court could order a person convicted of welfare fraud to reimburse the government for the wrongfully obtained benefits. This reimbursement is known as restitution. You could also face disqualification from applying for additional benefits for a certain period of time.
Regardless of the amount you are accused of misappropriating, you should hire an attorney to represent you against any allegations that you committed welfare fraud. Both felony and misdemeanor convictions can adversely impact your future.
Consequences of a Welfare Fraud Conviction
Fraud is sometimes referred to as a crime of dishonesty. That means an element of the crime involves lying or deception on your part. Thus, having a fraud conviction on your record can pose serious issues. For example, a fraud conviction could negatively affect your:
- Ability to obtain a concealed carry permit;
- Eligibility for certain scholarships;
- Ability to obtain gainful employment, especially in positions where your employer must trust you;
- Approval chances on a loan application; and
Almost everyone views dishonesty as a negative trait. With a fraud conviction on your record, you might have trouble convincing people that you are an honest person who is worthy of trust.
Hiring a criminal charges defense attorney gives you the best opportunity of obtaining a favorable result in your case.
Facing Allegations of Welfare Fraud? Contact the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices
There are many times in life when it is important that people believe you are a trustworthy person. Having a conviction for welfare fraud on your record can easily lead people to think the exact opposite. Such a conviction can result in—not only jail time—but irreparable harm to your reputation. To defend you against welfare fraud allegations, you should hire an experienced, compassionate criminal charges defense team.
Our criminal charges defense lawyers at New Mexico Criminal Law Offices understand that there is no single defense strategy that fits every criminal case. The best defense strategy comes from carefully considering the unique facts and circumstances in your situation. At the New Mexico Criminal Law Offices, our team will conduct a thorough investigation, listen to your concerns, and provide you with what we believe is a winning strategy for your case.