Three Republican lawmakers want the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to run more robust checks of public databases to root out fraud in the food stamps and Medicaid programs.
State Sen. Bill Coley, R-West Chester, described his bill as “anti-fraud legislation designed to eliminate fraud and get the money to those who truly need it.”
Ohio Medicaid, which costs $30 billion a year in state and federal money, covers roughly 3 million Ohioans who are low-income or disabled. The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as food stamps, helps 1.5 million Ohioans buy groceries and costs $3 billion a year in federal funds.
Coley and state Reps. Mike Henne, R-Clayton, and Robert McColley, R-Napoleon, — none of whom could identify how many people receive benefits from the programs — want state officials to match the program enrollees against income tax records, lottery winners, real estate holdings, immigration status records, death records, incarceration information and other datasets. Ohio should also check enrollees against people receiving benefits in other states, they said.
Coley said he met Maine Gov. Paul LePage through the Foundation for Government Accountability and discussed how states could share data. The FGA is a non-profit think tank that advocates for cracking down on fraud in government benefits programs. It also advocates for a host of other changes: repealing Obamacare, enlisting volunteers to supplement the child foster care system, requiring work in exchange for food stamps and rolling back local regulations for work licenses.
Coley said state officials already conduct some cross checks on SNAP and Medicaid enrollees but the legislation would require it.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of Ohio Association of Second Harvest Food Banks, said that the state is already required to do some wage verification for people on food stamps and enrollees are required to report changes in their incomes.
“The SNAP program has one of the lowest error and fraud rates of any of the federal programs,” she said. Penalties for fraud are severe: up to a $250,000 fine and 20 years in federal prison, she said. She also noted that 85 percent of those receiving food stamps are children, senior citizens and disabled Ohioans whose incomes do not fluctuate.
“We believe that anyone who commits fraudin the program should be punished to the fullest extent of the letter of the law. That’s how we maintain integrity in the program,” Hamler-Fugitt said.
Jon Keeling, spokesman for Ohio JFS, said “The state takes allegations of public assistance fraud very seriously. We currently use a number of automated checks that ensure benefit eligibility is essentially tracked year-round. These include automated checks from the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration, Unemployment Compensation, the Bureau of Worker’s Compensation, State Wage Information Collection Agency, the Public Assistance Reporting information System (PARIS) and several other automated sources. In addition, the state and counties have access to other online resources such as the Bureau of Motor Vehicles and Equifax Workforce Solutions to gather data in real-time upon request regarding items such as identify and employment.”
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