The House Study Committee on Welfare Fraud was created during the 2015 Legislative Session by the adoption of HR 829. The chairman, Rep. David Clark, along with Representatives Mandi Ballinger, Timothy Barr, Dominic LaRiccia, and Eric Thomas, were assigned to study the great number of “conditions, needs, issues, and problems” regarding Georgia welfare programs. They were to decide what actions needed to be taken in order to improve the programs, promote the most effective use of taxpayers’ dollars, reduce the amount of fraud, and to improve enforcement.
Four meetings were scheduled over the course of the committee’s study, taking place from September to early December. The meetings heard testimonies from representatives of multiple state departments and social agencies, including the Department of Community Health, the Department of Human Services, the Department of Family and Children Services, the Foundation for Government Accountability, the Heartland Institute, Georgia Works, and multiple others. They also heard testimony as to what has been implemented in other states as an attempt to prevent welfare fraud, and the overall effectiveness of these programs. Testimonies regarding welfare fraud prosecutions and of non-governmental programs were given as well. In the final meeting, the committee heard from the public, with two citizens speaking about the effects of growing up on welfare, as well as fraud.
The committee’s findings raised serious concern over the amount of waste and fraud in Georgia’s welfare program, and they insisted that serious reform is possible and necessary in order to protect long-term resources for the those truly in need. Although the committee was impressed with the dedication of the state workers that gave testimonies, there were questions about policy decisions and gaps that exist in how the programs are set up and ran.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), more widely known as food stamps, has yearly performance reviews of state administration, measuring performance of the “quality” and “timeliness” of cases. Quality being whether a random sample of cases are receiving the correct amount of benefits, which determines the state’s “error rate”. A 5 percent error rate receives a warning letter from the federal government, and Georgia was out of compliance in both fiscal years 2013 and 2014, with 5.11 percent and 6.49 percent error rates, respectively.
Timeliness is the number of days taken to process a case, 30 for standard cases and 5 for expedited cases. The standard for SNAP timelines is 95 percent, and Georgia was out of compliance again in 2013 and 2014, with 79 percent and 66 percent, respectively. The fallout is the result of the increase in case files per worker during the recent recession. The goal is to reach 80 percent at the next measurement, and then 95 percent the next subsequent year. If Georgia does not come back into compliance, $75 million in federal funds will be lost.
A representative from the Heartland Institute recently released a report card on Georgia’s TANF policies, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families. Georgia received an F after an examination of work requirements, cash division programs, service integration, time limits, and sanction policies. The committee was also concerned with the lack of a work requirement for able-bodied adults without dependents enrolled on SNAP.
The committee learned of a program Georgia participates in called the National Accuracy Clearing House (NAC), which helps to prevent dual participation in the SNAP program among five states in the southeast. This program identified roughly 10,000 receiving dual benefits in five states, including 3,4000 in Georgia, saving $180,000 a month for taxpayers. Although this is encouraging, it also points to the large amount of waste and abuse that is still undetected, including citizens who recently moved and failed to tell the state, recently deceased citizens, and even recent millionaire lottery winners.
Other state’s efforts to understanding where SNAP EBT benefits are accessed were also discussed, a large amount being used out-of-state in the Florida area near Disney World, as well as in-state at strip clubs and casinos, and also as currency as part of the drug trade.
The Committee recommended the following reforms:
- Work requirement for all able-bodied, childless adults in Georgia.
- Identify more fraud with enhanced eligibility and redetermination screening.
- Adding photos on EBT cards.
- Regularly crosschecked lottery winners with welfare enrollees.
- Expand the list of prohibited locations that EBT/EPC cards cannot be used.
- Preserve food stamps for the truly needy.
- Share all enrollee disenrollment information between welfare agencies.
- Eliminate SNAP benefits for those not stepping forward to care for their children through child support.
- Create marriage encouraging welfare policies.
- Reduce time limits on Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) to prevent long-term dependence.
- Clear rules for TANF program participation.
- Clear rules for SNAP program participation.
- Reporting to monitor dependence, so individuals can be taken off of the programs as soon as they are no longer eligible.
- Change process for replacing EBT cards, so the cards will not be trafficked.
- Applying the Prosecuting Attorney’s Council of Georgia’s Code recommendations. This moves the welfare abuse section to the criminal code section. Welfare fraud would then be prosecuted as a criminal offense.
The committee was tasked with reforming Georgia’s welfare system in order to protect the resources for the truly needy, to free as many enrollees as possible from being dependent to independent, and to steward every taxpayer dollar. From hearing the testimonies of state departments, non-governmental agencies, citizens, and on other state’s ambitions to stop welfare fraud, these recommendations can help Georgia rise up from its failing reports and help sustain the long-term resources needed to help our struggling citizens, as well as work to give them back their financial independence.