Bills of Note: FoodShare Reform

Rep. André Jacque (R-DePere) and Sen. Robert Cowles (R-Green Bay) recently authored bills (AB 263/SB 174) that aim to reduce fraud in the state’s FoodShare program for low-income households. The companion bills create optional incentive programs for counties to receive reward payments for identifying fraud.

In addition, the legislation allows for the removal of benefits from FoodShare accounts that have been inactive for six months, and instead stores those accounts offline. If these benefits are offline for one year, they would be permanently expunged.  Finally, the bill requires the Department of Health Services (DHS) to request a waiver to limit the number of replacement FoodShare cards a recipient may receive per year to four.

The Senate Committee on Public Benefits, Licensing and State-Federal Relations held a hearing on the bill on June 7. The Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform held a hearing on June 20. The bill authors testified that some people are using FoodShare accounts to accumulate large savings and commit fraud by selling their cards for cash.  Their belief is the proposals in this bill would help identify and deter the fraud that wastes taxpayer dollars.

Jacque noted that several of these proposals received bipartisan support last session. Jacque was joined by Brown County’s Sheriff and Health and Human Services officials who shared their success story in identifying fraud in the FoodShare program. They added that the whole state must be active in identifying fraud, and counties should receive incentive payments to support their investigations. The Wisconsin Counties Association also registered in favor of the proposal.

DHS Inspector General Anthony Blaize and Legislative Liaison Jon Hoelter provided informational testimony from the department at the Assembly hearing. They said that while the spirit of the bill is good, many technical problems may exist in implementing its provisions. DHS expressed concern that the federal government would not give the state enough money for the reward payments under the incentive program.  They also questioned the expense of storing benefits offline. DHS also doubted whether the federal government would approve the waiver to reduce the number of replacement cards a FoodShare recipient may request.  Officials said the current system of sending a letter and monitoring the accounts of those who have requested more than four cards has worked well, reducing the number of requests by 57 percent.

Executive sessions on the bills have not yet been scheduled.