As one of its first orders of business during the 2011 special session of the Washington State Legislature, the Senate passed Senate Bill 5921, the first substantive overhaul to the state’s welfare program since 1997.
Sen. Mike Carrell, R-Lakewood and outspoken critic of fraud and abuse within the state Department of Social and Health Services, co-sponsored the legislation with Democrat Sen. Debbie Regala, D-Tacoma. SB 5921 is a combination of two Carrell bills from the regular session; Senate Bill 5877 would have created the Office of Fraud and Accountability within DSHS, and Senate Bill 5327 would have limited the use of electronic benefit transfer cards.
“Debbie and I worked out an agreement to combine our fraud and abuse bills into one comprehensive bill that would best serve the needs of all involved,” Carrell said. “I worked with Senator Regala on the 2007 prison and supervision reform bill, and I’m happy to be working with her again to crack down on waste, fraud and abuse of our state’s public programs.”
As with Carrell’s earlier legislation, SB 5921 would create an Office of Fraud and Accountability reporting directly to the secretary of DSHS. It also makes the use of state-issued EBT cards at taverns, strip clubs and liquor stores a crime, while requiring adult-only businesses to prevent the use of EBT cards at their ATMs and registers. Finally, it would transform the state’s WorkFirst program by implementing performance-based contracts, ensuring that the program succeeds at getting people back to work.
“The fact is the majority party still controls the Senate, the House of Representatives and the executive branch, and it’s in everyone’s best interest to work across the aisle,” Carrell said of SB 5921, which passed unanimously. “While the bill passed today does not include another idea that I originally proposed – that the state auditor be responsible for investigating fraud within DSHS programs – this is still a major step forward.”
SB 5921 now goes to the House for consideration.