Feds and Locals Disagree on FoodShare Fraud in Wisconsin

The same week Wisconsin Lawmakers expressed concern over fraud in the state’s FoodShare Program, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced Wisconsin’s program is one of the most accurate in the country and will be rewarded with an extra $3 million.

“We have worked very hard in Wisconsin to make sure the right people have the right benefits at the right time. And we are proud to be a national leader on an important issue for the health and well being of people across Wisconsin. These bonus awards prove that our hard work is paying off and that hundreds-of-thousands of people in Wisconsin are getting the food benefits they’re entitled to,” said Tom Vilsack, USDA Secretary.

However, recent investigations by Racine County and the Racine Journal-Times reveal the right people are not getting the right benefits at the right time.

“County officials announced in May that they had uncovered massive fraud in the state’s FoodShare program, which provides families in need with debit-like cards that allow them to purchase food,” reported the Racine Journal Times earlier this week.

“FoodShare cards are being sold, and anyone can use the card as long as they have a pin number,” Racine County Human Services Fraud Supervisor Susan Keown told the paper. That transaction is also enabled by federal rules that state people do not have to show identification to use the cards.

This problem has not escaped Wisconsin lawmakers. At a Joint Finance Committee meeting on Wednesday, members discussed possible steps the state could take to stop FoodShare fraud.

“The effort here is to get food to folks who are really struggling, but there are individuals taking advantage of this program,” said Senator John Lehman, D-Racine.

“We have seen that efforts throughout the state have really been lax with people who are committing this kind of fraud. We know that in other states like Michigan, they have thousands of people who are prosecuted for Foodshare fraud. I think in Wisconsin I think it was 60,” said Representative Robin Vos, R-Racine.

A recent audit that uncovered massive fraud in the state’s child daycare programs has prompted the Legislative Council to conduct a study of public assistance program integrity.

Senator Bob Jauch, D-Poplar, has been named the chair of that committee. His office did not return a message from the MacIver News Service whether FoodShare would be included in that study.

At the Joint Finance Committee meeting, Senator Lehman said, “We’re making every effort to get FoodShare included in the subject of that study committee. I believe that’s going to happen. But whatever we can do here in Madison to help out the reporting and the prosecution of any kind of fraud just gets more food and more resources to people who really need it.”

Representative Vos added it is important “that we don’t wait until February to start going after people that commit fraud.”

However, the Legislative Council said the study’s first meeting won’t happen until August or September. It will meet once or twice a month for the rest of the year. The committee will try to have recommendations ready for the next legislature at the start of the new session in January.