ATLANTA – A Gwinnett County man has been sentenced to two years and six months in prison for running a fake credit card and ID lab.
Claude Goines,35, of Lilburn manufactured fraudulent credit cards and driver’s licenses while on a work release program related to an earlier fraud conviction.
Federal agents raiding Goines’ lab found multiple laptops, USB storage devices, cell phones, printers, blank card stock, security holograms for driver’s licenses of several U.S. states, two handguns and other related items, said Bobby Christine, acting U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.
“Identity theft and credit card fraud has become an all too common problem,” Christine said. “The actions of thieves like Goines can severely damage citizens’ lives and credit.
“We encourage all citizens to monitor their credit for any suspicious activity, and if they find any, to contact law enforcement immediately.”
Goines has a background in law enforcement He formerly served as a detention officer at the DeKalb County Sheriff’s Office, where he rose to the rank of sergeant.
Goines was convicted last October after he pleaded guilty to charges of access device fraud and possession of device-making equipment.
After he completes his prison sentence, he will spend three years on supervised release.
The case was investigated by the U.S. Secret Service, the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and the FBI.
Climbing Medicaid enrollment underscores how the pandemic is spurring economic uncertainty for poor children in Georgia, who make up roughly two-thirds of the program’s beneficiaries, said Laura Harker, a senior policy analyst at the nonprofit Georgia Budget and Policy Institute (GBPI).
“It reflects some of the challenges to the whole household when a family member loses income or loses their job that could result in them qualifying or their children qualifying in Medicaid,” Harker said.
Currently, Medicaid coverage is available for Georgia adults with incomes about 35% below the federal poverty line, as well as children in households making up to 138% above the poverty line and low-income senior, blind and disabled adults.
Eligibility is set to change under Kemp’s plan for partial Medicaid expansion, which would cover adults earning up to 100% of the poverty line or possibly 50,000 more beneficiaries, according to state estimates. It also requires recipients to work, attend school or volunteer at least 80 hours each month.
The plan won federal approval last October and is set to roll out in phases starting in July.
Its backers view the plan as a timely tool to help prop up Georgia’s lowest-earning residents as they struggle through the pandemic, particularly if certain jobs never return or are changed drastically in the rebounding economy.
“[The plan] tried to address those jobs right around the eligibility level and create a pathway off Medicaid,” said Chris Denson, the policy and research director for the nonprofit Georgia Public Policy Foundation (GPPF). “There are going to be a lot of long-term ramifications out of this pandemic as far as the economy.”
Kemp’s partial-expansion plan has many detractors who want Georgia to join other states in fully expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which would cover adults up to 138% of the poverty line and could add 500,000 more recipients to the program, according to GBPI’s estimates.
Full expansion would also boost the federal government’s share of costs for administering Medicaid in Georgia from about 60% currently to 90%, greatly reducing the state’s required contributions, supporters say.
Democratic state lawmakers citing the spike in enrollment have renewed longstanding calls for full Medicaid expansion, a step Georgia’s Republican-led legislature has avoided in favor of Kemp’s plan for partial expansion.
“It is a fiscally responsible option [and] it is a morally responsible option,” said state Rep. Teri Anulewicz, D-Smyrna. “We are turning down federal funds due to political partisanship and that is thwarting Georgians.”
Cost savings from the federal government under full expansion could help the state plug holes in its $26-billion budget for areas like public schools and health care that faced spending cuts last year due to the pandemic, said Harker of the GBPI.
“We’re missing out on the enhanced federal match,” Harker said. “Other states are able to use that money to support their budgets as they face the downturn.”
Critics of that approach argue Georgia’s costs to run Medicaid would still be too high to manage hundreds of thousands more beneficiaries, even if the federal government ups its end of the cost-sharing arrangement. They prefer striking a balance between helping struggling Georgians and weaning them off government assistance.
“As Medicaid enrollment continues to grow, then it crowds out other state priorities,” said Denson of the GPPF. “And there’s always a chance that the feds will drop that matching rate.”
Republican state lawmakers, who hold majorities in both General Assembly chambers, look unlikely to tackle the issue this year after passing a bill in June aimed at expanding Medicaid coverage for new mothers to six months after birth instead of the current two months.
House Appropriations Committee Chairman Terry England, R-Auburn, argued Georgia’s spending might increase by hundreds of millions of dollars with full expansion, calling it a “policy decision” instead of a “budget decision” that would need legislation to pass.
“I think we’ve had numerous discussions over that over the years,” England said. “Remember that with expansion of Medicaid, there is also an increased liability from the state’s portion.”
Still, Medicaid costs are set to increase in the coming months once the federal government nixes a temporary larger share it has been paying amid the pandemic. Georgia Department of Community Health officials project needing an additional $201 million to cover rising Medicaid costs in fiscal 2022.
Kemp’s office pointed to the governor’s budget proposal that includes an additional $329 million for Medicaid through June 2022, plus another $76 million for agencies to implement the partial-expansion plan and other changes to boost insurance coverage and private-sector insurance competition.
“It is crucial that we provide life-saving healthcare to our most vulnerable Georgians, especially during a pandemic,” said Mallory Blount, Kemp’s press secretary.
“Doing so will reduce Georgians’ dependence on the failed promises of the Affordable Care Act, giving low-income Georgians access to affordable care, and increasing competition in the private sector to make more options available throughout the state.”
ATLANTA – Proposals to legalize gambling in Georgia are now in the pipeline of both legislative chambers in the General Assembly.
A bill introduced in the state Senate this week would allow pari-mutuel betting on horse racing in the Peach State subject to a statewide referendum.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Brandon Beach, follows the introduction of two measures in the Georgia House of Representatives to legalize online sports betting and casino gambling.
Beach’s 51-page bill calls for the construction of up to three mixed-use developments featuring a racetrack, hotels and restaurants. The facilities also could include convention space, entertainment venues and retail shopping.
One of the racetrack complexes would have to be located within 50 miles of Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport and require an investment of at least $250 million. The other two facilities would be outside of metro Atlanta and require a smaller investment of at least $125 million.
Portions of the betting proceeds would go toward education, health care, rural development and to efforts to address problem gambling and promote the horse racing and breeding industries in Georgia.
Beach, R-Alpharetta, the main driver behind horse racing in the legislature for several years, has promoted the proposal as a way to create jobs, not only at the racetracks but on rural horse breeding and hay farms.
He and other supporters of legalized gambling argue gambling is already pervasive in Georgia, but the state isn’t maximizing badly needed tax revenue that could be derived from racetracks, casinos and sports betting.
“We’ve got the COAM (coin-operated amusement machines) and the lottery drawings,” Beach said. “[But the lottery] is not able to completely fund the HOPE Scholarship [program] anymore. We’re going to have to find different revenue sources.”
Beach’s bill would create a commission to oversee horse racing in Georgia. Track operators would have to put up $500,000 for a license from the commission and pay $250,000 per year to renew the license for up to 10 years.
Legalizing pari-mutuel betting on horse racing requires a constitutional amendment, which has yet to be introduced so far this year. Passing a constitutional change and putting it on the statewide ballot for Georgia voters to decide is a difficult hurdle in the General Assembly because it requires two-thirds majorities in both the House and Senate.
Sen. Ed Harbison, D-Columbus, has signed on to Beach’s bill as a cosponsor. The bill has been assigned to the Senate Regulated Industries and Utilities Committee.
Gov. Brian Kemp has rolled out his administration’s bill package for foster care and adoption in Georgia that would boost tax credits for foster parents and tighten reporting requirements on child abuse.
The bills would revive Kemp’s push to raise the tax credit for foster parents from $2,000 to $6,000 and lower the minimum age adults are allowed to adopt children from 25 to 21. Those proposals were shelved when the COVID-19 pandemic interrupted last year’s legislative session.
A third bill would add more training for juvenile court officers, expand rules for parents under court-ordered alternatives care and require officials to report on a range of child-abuse treatment including abandonment, neglect, emotional abuse and exposure to chronic alcohol or drug use.
The number of Georgia children in foster care has declined over the past three years but remains high, according to state Division of Children and Family Services data. The state currently has about 11,200 children in foster care, down from 15,000 in March 2018.
Kemp has made foster care a legislative priority for his administration along with cracking down on human trafficking and gang activities.
“The most fundamental need for any child is a safe, loving home,” Kemp said Thursday in a statement.
“By making it more affordable to adopt, reducing bureaucratic red tape that stands in the way of loved ones adopting kids, and championing the safety of children across our state, we can ensure Georgia’s children are placed in those homes and secure a safer, brighter future for generations to come.”
The three bills are being sponsored by state Rep. Bert Reeves, R-Marietta, and state Sen. Bo Hatchett, R-Cornelia, both of whom Kemp appointed as floor leaders in their respective chambers.
The measures follow Kemp’s signing of a bill last year that prohibits foster parents from engaging in improper sexual behavior with children in their care, closing a loophole in current state law.
ATLANTA – First-time unemployment claims in Georgia fell by 7,896 last week to 28,016, reflecting a weekly decline at the national level, the state Department of Labor reported Thursday.
The agency paid out more than $238 million in state and federal benefits last week as it continued to implement the 11-week payment extensions provided in the latest COVID-19 relief package Congress passed late last month.
Additional U.S. Department of Labor requirements contained in the legislation must be integrated into the state systems before eligible payments can be released.
The state labor department is encouraging claimants to continue requesting weekly payments for those who have exhausted benefits or are waiting on determinations on eligibility.
Meanwhile, the agency is warning about the potential for fraud as it begins to send out more than 1.1 million 1099-G tax forms to Georgians who received unemployment benefits last year.
Anyone who receives a 1099-G form but did not file a claim in 2020 is urged to notify the labor department. The agency will investigate any reports of identity theft, make any necessary adjustments to the potential victim’s 1099-G and resubmit an amended form to the Internal Revenue Service.
“We are asking Georgians to be vigilant of their credit information and help us combat the fraudsters who are unlawfully taking funds from the [state Unemployment Insurance] program,” Georgia Commissioner of Labor Mark Butler said Thursday. “This is a critical issue that is plaguing labor departments across the United States involving local, state, and even international criminals.”
Since the coronavirus pandemic broke out in Georgia last March, the labor department has paid out almost $17.6 billion in state and federal benefits to more than 4.3 million Georgians, more than the last nine years before the pandemic combined.
During the week ending June 23, the job sector accounting for the most initial unemployment claims in Georgia was accommodation and food services with 6,064. The health care and social assistance job sector was next with 3,145 claims, followed by manufacturing with 3,052.
More than 170,000 jobs are listed online at EmployGeorgia.com for Georgians to access. The labor department offers online resources for finding a job, building a resume, and assisting with other reemployment needs.