There is no rule preventing welfare recipients from leaving California, as long as they get clearance from their county case worker to be absent from the program's 32-hour-a-week job training requirement. County investigators, who state authorities say are responsible for rooting out fraud and abuse, typically don't question a recipient's whereabouts until transactions on a welfare card show that he or she has been gone for more than 30 days.
"If it's a one-time thing in Miami, we would never check that out," said John Haley, commander of the financial crimes division of the San Diego County district attorney's office, who said 24% of all new welfare applications in his jurisdiction contain some form of fraud. "We look for patterns of abuse."
In Los Angeles County, investigators hadn't been checking until a recipient was gone for three months, said Department of Public Social Services Director Philip Browning. The inability to do more was "really just a resource issue," he said.
Following questions from The Times, Browning said investigators would start inquiring once the data show that a recipient has been gone for more than 30 days.