Jan 12, 2023 - Politics

State officials investigate fraud tied to Kemp's $350 payments

Photo illustration of Governor Brian Kemp next to Georgia cash card and surrounded by various shapes

Photo illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios. Photo: Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Axios and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution are both owned by Cox Enterprises and collaborated on this story.

State officials are investigating Gov. Brian Kemp's $350 cash assistance program after fraudsters allegedly stole funds from low-income Georgians.

Why it matters: Some Georgians still haven't been able to claim their money, though the state insists the "overwhelming majority" of the more than 3 million recipients have spent their funds without issue.

  • The state, however, has been unable to provide numbers illustrating the scale of fraud reports.

Catch up quick: Kemp last year dedicated more than $1 billion in federal COVID relief funds to administer payment cards to millions of Georgians on federal and state benefits like Medicaid.

  • Almost immediately after its September launch, the program was plagued by a storm of social media posts about missing money and struggles to spend the largely virtual cards at certain stores.
  • Axios and the AJC began a joint investigation into the messy rollout and allegations the state violated privacy laws in the process.

The latest: The Georgia Bureau of Investigation and the state Attorney General began investigations in October. They’re working together with the state Department of Human Services, which administers the program.

What they're saying: "This innovative program — likely the largest virtual card program in history — has positively impacted countless Georgians at a truly critical time," said DHS spokesperson Kylie Winton in a statement.

  • The state is looking into the alleged fraud and working with law enforcement, she said.

Zoom in: Brittany Banks of Columbus, Ga. said in an interview that funds from her two children's cards were stolen before she could use them, and the state last week rejected her fraud claims. She said there was only $3.60 left on her son's card and $2.98 left on her daughter's.

  • "I was hoping it would come before Christmas but it never did," she said in an interview. "I've just given up. It was a huge disappointment."

Of note: After Axios and the AJC alerted DHS to Banks' story, the state yesterday promised Banks' children would receive credits within the next 24 hours.

What's happening: Winton said in a statement that the program's vendor, Rellevate, a digital financial services platform is analyzing each claim and determining whether "legitimate fraud occurred."

  • If fraud occurred, then a recipient will be reimbursed, she said.

Yes, but: The scale of the problem remains unknown.

  • Questions from the Axios and the AJC to the state about the numbers of fraudulent claims and reimbursements were referred to Rellevate.
  • Rellevate, however, referred those questions back to DHS.

The intrigue: In the early days of the program, DHS' Facebook page was flooded with complaints. The volume of posts has markedly decreased, but some recipients who are still waiting for the cash are helping each other troubleshoot on separate Facebook groups.

  • In one group with nearly 43,000 members, some users say they too have reported their money as stolen to no avail.
  • One user said she had a card with a balance of negative $16 on it. "I have just given up on it," the user said.

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