In response to a growing number of egregious cases of fraud and abuse within the state Department of Social and Health Services, Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood, proposed Senate Bill 5877. The bill, which would establish an Office of Fraud and Accountability within DSHS and fundamentally reorganize the department’s fraud-investigation activities, was approved by the Senate Human Services and Corrections Committee late Thursday evening.
“During testimony we worked out the details of the bill with DSHS Secretary Susan Dreyfus, who is understandably reluctant to get on board with this,” Carrell said, “but the bottom line is that for nearly two decades that department has had opportunities to police itself and crack down on waste, fraud and abuse and has failed to do so. It’s obvious that reforming the department is not going to come from within, so my colleagues and I proposed this bill to help DSHS restore its credibility with the public.”
Carrell’s bill would direct the new office to investigate alleged fraud and abuse in any program or service administered by DSHS, recommend policies and procedures to prevent and detect fraud and abuse, provide information to the secretary of DSHS, governor and Legislature about deficiencies in the system, and make referrals to law enforcement or prosecuting attorneys when fraud and abuse is suspected, among other things.
“One of the better parts of my bill is the provision that will benefit county prosecutors,” Carrell added. “If this bill passes, counties could qualify for federal money to hire more prosecutors and staff to pursue people who are fraudulently using the food allotment of their electronic benefit transfer cards.”
Numerous media reports in recent months have revealed the sheer scale of the DSHS fraud and abuse problem. Lawmakers were shocked to learn that some state taxpayer-funded EBT cards were being sold for far less than their value – at least one, notably, on the online classified-ad website Craigslist. Some benefit recipients have also used their EBT cards at inappropriate places like strip clubs, tobacco shops and tattoo parlors, and 37,000 of the 68,000 people who have been issued an EBT card have requested three or more replacement cards in the past year.
“In my mind, we simply can’t be cutting into education and health care programs to solve our state’s budget crisis without first doing everything we can to root out the fraud and abuse that already exists in the system,” Carrell said. “It’s our responsibility as lawmakers to pursue those options first. It’s not just the easy choice, it’s the right choice.”
SB 5877 will now be considered by the Senate Ways and Means Committee.