Two key legislators and a broad coalition of representatives in Tennessee are fed up with the rampant welfare fraud in the Volunteer state. They’ve submitted legislation to protect those who truly need the support from the thieves and fraudsters that seek to take from the most vulnerable.
Senators Kerry Roberts and Representative Dan Howell, have filed the “Act to Restore Hope, Opportunity and Prosperity for Everyone,” which aims to save the state more than $123 million each year by cracking down on waste, fraud and abuse in the state’s welfare programs.
“We want to make sure that money is available to people who need it most,” said Roberts, who noted that Tennessee spends more proportionally than any other state on welfare programs. “According to the Census Bureau about one in four state dollars go into welfare programs.”
At a press conference announcing the effort, Senator Howell said, “We see this as a moral issue in Tennessee. Taxpayers should know where their hard-earned dollars are going.” The lawmakers noted that efforts to crack down on improper use of welfare funds have saved money in states like Illinois and Massachusetts.
The goal of the legislation is not to keep welfare out of the hands of those who deserve it, but to ensure that fraudsters, cheats and thieves don’t waste the state’s welfare funds and jeopardize the benefits for everyone.
The Act to Restore HOPE has several key elements.
The first component is a strong verification program that can be used to ensure that, as Senator Howell said, “Joe Schmo with two vacation homes and an Escalade” is not stealing welfare benefits while thousands of Volunteer State residents wait for the services they truly need.
The second key aspect of the legislation would track the purchases made by Tennessee residents receiving welfare benefits. The use of EBT cards for welfare spending has made the misuse of these funds a growing problem in many states across the country. The Senators outlined a number of places that welfare recipients would be restricted from using their funds including, video game arcades, movie theaters, massage and tattoo parlors, theme parks, travel and cruise services, and “sexually oriented businesses.”
The final section of the legislation gives new authority and new tools to the state to identify and prosecute people taking advantage of the state’s generous welfare system.
Senator Roberts told a crowd of reporters that, in the course of crafting their legislation they discovered that they have not given the DHS “the resources to identify” welfare fraudsters or root them out. “This will help deter future fraud and preserve those resources,” Roberts said.
He stressed the goal of the legislation, “What this legislation does not do is take welfare away from people who deserve it and who are entitled to it.”
Other states have implemented similar reforms containing these components, with great success – stressing that embracing modern technology and increasing prosecution of law-breakers can help curb welfare fraud and keep room in the budget for those who rely on the state’s helping hand.
Kristina Ribali is the Senior Coalitions Director for the Foundation for Government Accountability. Follow Kristina on Twitter and Facebook for the latest on welfare and health care reform.
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