HomeBudget & Tax NewsKey Pennsylvania Budget Negotiator Hopes for Welfare Fraud Compromise

Key Pennsylvania Budget Negotiator Hopes for Welfare Fraud Compromise

(The Center Square) – Amid startling audit findings, some lawmakers hope the governor will compromise on welfare reform as part of his commitment to strengthening the public safety net.

“We prioritize program integrity as a way to reduce costs,” said Rep. Seth Grove, R-York, the House Appropriations Committee minority chairman. “Obviously, we don’t want fraud, waste and abuse in the system – and we want to prioritize funding for the most needy.”

The comment comes after state Inspector General Lucas Miller told lawmakers during a recent budget hearing that the agency uncovered a 40% fraud rate among public assistance beneficiaries – primarily in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, also called SNAP or food stamps.

Auditors conducted 20,000 field visits as part of the agency’s responsibility to ferret out fraud, waste and abuse. Miller said the results indicate that “roughly 9,000 times that we go out, it’s having some net effect on reducing the amount of payments that we were issuing incorrectly.”

He clarified that the the office views fraud, specifically, as a criminal offense – as opposed to clerical errors or other unintentional omissions that beneficiaries sometimes make. Auditors make tens of thousands of visits, he said, to gather missing information that would prevent fraud from occurring in the first place.

The number of files investigated represents just 2% of the state’s total caseload, Grove said.

Data taken from the OSIG’s 2017-2018 Fiscal Year Annual Report shows the agency saved Pennsylvania more than $75 million in benefits that would have been incorrectly paid. It also projected a cost-benefit of nearly $12 for every $1 spent on investigative activities.

The Department of Human Services said about 3.6 million people receive Medical Assistance. Another 1.8 million qualify for the food stamps program, including 420,000 that remained eligible during the temporary waiver that expired April 1.

During a February committee hearing, the Foundation for Government Accountability said weakness in program design diverts benefits away from those who truly need them and into the hands of those living above the income limits – even millionaires.

Back in 2019 – when Gov. Josh Shapiro was serving as attorney general – he supported legislative reforms to crack down on Medicare fraud, which he estimated cost Pennsylvania $3 billion per year.

Grove said both House and Senate Republicans support a slew of legislative fixes to strengthen data verification, reimplement work requirements and give the inspector general office more resources to identify fraud on a larger scale.

“I think it’s something we can lead on,” Grove said. “That was bold leadership as Attorney General Josh Shapiro and hopefully we can get that same bold leadership as governor.”

Brandon Cwalina, a DHS spokesman, recently told The Center Square that reorganizing the rolls post-pandemic takes priority over program reform.

“We are confident in the eligibility determination process, and implementing new processes during this important time could create difficulties, such as unnecessary administrative burdens, for Medicaid recipients and the staff who are working with them to complete these renewals,” he said.

Originally published by The Center Square. Republished with permission.

For more from Budget & Tax News.

For more public policy from The Heartland Institute.

Christen Smith
Christen Smith
Christen joins The Center Square as its Pennsylvania News Editor and brings with her more than a decade of experience covering state and national policy issues from all angles. She’s a Pennsylvania State University alumna and has been published in the The Washington Examiner, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, RealClear and Broad+Liberty, among others.


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