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Politics & Government

New State Legislative Committee Tackles Public Assistance Fraud

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Gov. Scott Walker wants Wisconsin to drug test people applying for public benefits. A positive test could designate a person for treatment.

The governor has tucked the plan into his proposed state budget. But, a legislative panel could discuss the proposal on Tuesday.

The Assembly’s new committee on public benefit reform will hold its first meeting. Leaders want to determine if significant numbers of people receiving public assistance are gaming the system.

Charles Satchell is sitting at a computer at the YW Works job center on Milwaukee’s north side. He says he has a job, but he’s looking for one that pays better.

Satchell says he’s been unemployed before – and drawn an unemployment check, and he’s used food stamps. He says he does not have a problem with Wisconsin possibly drug testing people who apply for public assistance.

“I don’t look at it like it’s a Republican or racial tactic. If that’s what the requirement is, if that’s how we weed out the people who really need and the people who are kicking back having a good time on this, then that’s what we have to do,” Satchell says.

Satchell says he’s known people who’ve attempted to obtain benefits fraudulently. Another person here today looking for work is Marcia Kriegbaum. She says she uses food stamps because she has a disability.

“I would feel insulted if I had to be tested for drugs when I don’t even take them and I’m in this position through no fault of my own,” Kriegbaum says.

Kreigbaum says she does not think benefits fraud is a widespread problem. Republican state Rep. Mark Born disagrees. He’s chair of the new Public Benefit Reform Committee and says Republicans created it, because the issue comes up, all the time.

“It’s something that we see a lot of in polling and hear a lot about on the campaign trail. People are concerned about cracking down on waste, fraud and abuse in our public benefits system. When we’re on the campaign trail, it seems like somebody always has a story of something they’ve seen or their neighbor saw,” Born says.

Born says many cases of fraud involve people giving false names or impersonating other people. He thinks the committee will be flooded with legislation. For instance, there could be a bill requiring photos on benefits cards. Another would have the state send each recipient an annual rundown of benefits.

One Democratic member of the committee is Rep. Evan Goyke of Milwaukee. He thinks pursuing benefits fraud is a waste of money.

“It’s expensive to do a drug test and to continually monitor these folks. So, we’re going to end up, as other states have, spending more than we save,” Goyke says.

Goyke says he’ll introduce reforms of his own. For instance, he wants more farmers markets to accept food stamps and incentives for recipients to purchase healthier foods.