The Obama administration is prosecuting fewer people for defrauding government benefits programs, even as the number of Americans seeking federal aid has grown to record levels, USA Today reports. It is a shift for federal law enforcement agencies, which have increasingly targeted schemes aimed at mortgage lending, financial institutions, and Medicare. People who defraud food stamps, Social Security, or other benefits programs are less likely to face federal criminal charges.
In the two years since President Obama took office, the number of criminal prosecutions for defrauding those programs has dropped by about 20 percent to its lowest point in a decade. Last year, the Justice Department brought 678 such cases. Former Los Angeles U.S. attorney Thomas O’Brien says focusing limited government resources on high-cost frauds makes sense because those schemes tend to involve far more taxpayer money. “You have to decide what will have the biggest impact for taxpayers,” he says. “But you also can’t turn a blind eye to a certain area and say the government’s not going to take a very aggressive stance,” he says.