Sunday, February 13, 2005

Guilty until proven innocent

Hunt for Fugitives Expands to Retirees: "A law enforcement measure that has had mixed results in hunting down fugitives among the nation's sick and disabled is expanding this year to target the much larger ranks of retired Americans.

Thousands of unsuspecting retirees could lose their Social Security checks in the months ahead, some over false or unproven allegations, minor infractions or long-dormant arrest warrants. The risk is a consequence of the Fugitive Felon Project, a little-known law-and-order measure created by Congress in 1996 to help apprehend suspects and to prevent fleeing criminals from using government benefits to elude arrest.

Project computers already match names on various welfare lists with names on felony warrants issued around the country. That screening process has led to thousands of arrests among recipients of disability checks alone, including 88 wanted on homicide charges.

But records and interviews also show that the computer dragnet frequently cut off federal benefits to the sick, poor and disabled who were neither fugitives nor felons. Many lacked financial and legal resources to get their benefits restored...."