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Assembly Passes measures aimed at FoodShare, Unemployment fraud

Assembly Passes measures aimed at FoodShare, Unemployment fraud

November 4, 2015

Republican lawmakers in the Assembly on Tuesday passed a slate of bills that seek to crack down on food stamp and unemployment fraud.

The proposals aim to prevent FoodShare recipients from selling or sharing the program’s debit cards used to pay for food, and ban recipients of unemployment benefits who are found to have lied twice on their applications from getting benefits for several years.

Critics say it would cost almost $10 million to implement measures, which could have the unintended consequence of threatening access to food and needed dollars for eligible recipients.

“It’s not going to stop fraud,” Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, said during the debate. “I can think of so many things we can spend that money on.”

But Republican supporters of the bill said the pieces of legislation preserve the integrity of the systems that together cost billions.

“Fraud is real and by putting these measures in place, we can hopefully get those who are breaking the rules to stop breaking them,” said Rep. Janel Brandtjen, R-Menomonee Falls.

Photos of FoodShare recipients would be printed on the program’s debit cards under one bill that passed the Assembly 57-40, but the bill does not require recipients to display the cards to buy food.

The proposal spends $7.4 million in state and federal dollars to put FoodShare recipients’ photos on the program’s debit cards. The cost of the program going forward would be $2 million annually.

Republicans Scott Allen of Waukesha, Adam Jarchow of Balsam Lake, Adam Neylon of Pewaukee and Mike Rohrkaste of Neenah joined Democrats in voting against the bill.

In September, Assembly lawmakers on the Public Benefit Reform Committee backed off the original proposal to require store clerks to check the recipient’s photo on the debt card during a food purchase.

The original bill, introduced by Rep. Jesse Kremer, R-Kewaskum, would have required the state to seek a federal waiver to require FoodShare recipients to present a debit card that included their photo on it, but the bill was revised after committee members learned the likelihood of receiving such a waiver was small.

Rep. Daniel Riemer, D-Milwaukee, said dropping millions in $1 bills would be a better use of money.

Republican lawmakers supporting the bill say the program lost more than $6 million in fraudulent payments made to people not listed as recipients last year — some of it lost in recipients selling their cards.

Rep. Mark Born, R-Beaver Dam, said putting that much money toward programs that cost more than $1 billion in each state budget is a good investment if it reduces fraud in the future.

Another bill moved forward Tuesday by the Assembly, 66-31, requires FoodShare benefits to be removed from accounts that haven’t been used in six months.

Jorgensen said 1.5 percent of FoodShare recipients are affected by the legislation. At a cost of $1.3 million to remove benefits from inactive accounts, Jorgensen said the bill doesn’t fight fraud but wastes taxpayer money.

“What instead could we be using $1.3 million on? I bet one of your local schools might tell you some good ideas,” Jorgensen said.

But bill sponsor Andre Jacque, R-DePere, said the bill ensures benefits aren’t going unused.

Jacque said the program is intended to “be a needs-based program” and if benefits are going unused for months, “the program isn’t functioning the way it’s supposed to.”

The Assembly also passed a third bill, 66-31, that triggers an investigation of FoodShare recipients who have requested a fifth replacement debit card in one year, over Democratic objections that the bill targets a small number of people and costs too much money.

A fourth bill targets unemployment fraud by prohibiting a person from receiving unemployment benefits for seven years if they have twice been found to have lied to the state to receive benefits. Assembly Republicans passed the bill 63-34.

Jorgensen balked at the proposal, saying it could affect people who are simply confused by the application process.

A Legislative Audit Bureau report published in 2014 showed that 85 percent of cases in which the state overpaid unemployment benefits were a result of mistakes made on the recipient’s application.

Fraud was responsible for 9.5 percent of the cases.

No one has lobbied in favor of the bills making changes to FoodShare, according to the Government Accountability Board, while groups representing small and large businesses and the state’s chamber of commerce are supporting the bill addressing unemployment benefits.


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