Committee on Benefits Reform Shies Away from Federal Waivers

Heavily amended bill falls short of limiting number of replacement EBT cards per recipient

MacIver News Service | October 14, 2015

[Madison, Wisc…] The Assembly Committee on Public Benefits Reform approved a bill on Tuesday, which would require review of FoodShare recipients who request too many replacement cards.

As originally drafted, Assembly Bill 200 (AB 200) would have charged Wisconsin’s Department of Health Services (DHS) to seek a waiver from the federal government to limit the number of replacement benefit cards per recipient to four within a 12 month period.

However, an amendment introduced by bill author Rep. Dave Heaton (R-Wausau) removes the need to request the waiver because it will ask DHS to refer accounts to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for review of possible misuse rather than cutting off the number of cards provided to users.

Instead of cutting people off at four cards, as the original bill would have done, the amendment requires DHS to send letters to recipients notifying them that they have requested an excessive number of replacement cards and that they may be investigated for potential fraud. The amendment requires the OIG to investigate for fraud once there are five requests, and a sixth request requires the recipient to contact DHS directly for the replacement and provide an explanation. DHS must then educate the recipient on proper use of the card.

Representatives approved the substitute amendment and the bill as amended in 8-5 party line votes.

“I am pleased to see this legislation continue to move forward. It is essential for the state of Wisconsin to ensure that our most vulnerable have access to the support they need to provide for their families and build a better life,” Heaton said. “It is also equally important to ensure that our state’s entitlement programs, like FoodShare, are not abused in a way that wastes taxpayer dollars. Building on past successes, this bill helps provide the Department of Health Services with another tool to combat waste, fraud, and abuse in the FoodShare program, while also making sure that the safety net for those in need remains intact.”

Rep. Andy Jorgensen (D-Milton) introduced four amendments, three of which failed to pass with votes along party lines. Assembly Amendment 3, which brings the language into procedural compliance, was passed unanimously.

In his closing remarks, Jorgensen questioned both the effectiveness and the impetus of the bill.

“This has nothing to do with fraud. This is about losing cards and replacing them,” Jorgensen said. “Those folks by the way, they are probably not committing fraud. And if they were, we already have the laws to go after them…Republicans are effectively saying they don’t care if those families go hungry. As it is currently written, this bill is too expensive and too mean-spirited to support.”

AB 200 follows in the footsteps of AB 222, a bill introduced by Rep. Jesse Kremer (R-Kewaskum), which would have required DHS to submit a federal waiver to allow for the placement of photographs on QUEST cards. Amendments later changed the bill to not require clerks to actually view the photographs, making the bill in line with federal law and thus no longer requiring a federal waiver.

Following its passage out of committee, AB 200 is now available to be scheduled on the floor of the Assembly. There is no word yet on when the full Assembly will meet again.