CHRIS BROWN: Common ground on welfare reform

CHRIS BROWN

CHRIS BROWN

The debate between those who defend welfare entitlements and those who oppose the very concept of government handouts may seem irresolvable. But there is common ground both sides can support that will help individuals rise out of poverty, ensure those who need assistance receive it, and reduce the cost to taxpayers. This common ground is a concerted and intentional effort to remove fraud and abuse from our welfare programs, thus protecting Medicaid and Food Stamps (SNAP) for those who really need it.HB 1090, passed by the Mississippi House and sent to the Senate, would enact five commonsense reforms that a majority of Mississippi voters support:

First, the legislation will make sure that welfare recipients are actually alive – that is, not using dead people’s social security numbers to get on Medicaid. As incredible as it sounds, our Medicaid program is not catching many such instances of fraud. When Illinois audited their own Medicaid program, they found 14,000 “dead people” within two years.

Second, the legislation will make sure folks actually live in Mississippi. Many people are taking advantage of welfare programs by enrolling in multiple states. In Florida, for instance, a recent audit found 3,500 people on Food Stamps who were also on Food Stamps in neighboring states, including Mississippi.

Third, the legislation will make sure recipients are who they say they are. When Arkansas ran a review of their rolls, they found 20,000 Medicaid enrollees using stolen identities.

Fourth, HB 1090 will verify assets and income. When Michigan started verifying assets for Food Stamps, they found 7,000 lottery winners on welfare. This is what one million-dollar winner said: “I feel that it’s OK because I have no income, and I have bills to pay. I have two houses.” In Minnesota, a similar audit found people underreporting income by as much as $70,000 a year.

Fifth, the legislation will reduce opportunities for fraud. For instance, by tracking where people use welfare and by not allowing EBT (TANF) cards to be used at ATMs in spas and liquor stores and other questionable sites. A review of TANF transactions in Maine found the cards being used in every other state.

These are popular reforms all across Mississippi. A 2016 poll of Mississippi voters shows 85 percent want ongoing eligibility verification; 80 percent want to prevent welfare benefits from being used for vice or luxury spending; 74 percent want asset tests; and 73 percent support work requirements for able-bodied adults without children.

We know that work transforms lives and families. Ultimately, HB 1090 is about encouraging people to escape the poverty trap that welfare can become and turn their lives around through education, job training and a career.

In 2013, Kansas launched an initiative requiring able-bodied adults without kids to get back to work, after having been on Food Stamps for years. The results were astonishing. According to a study by the Foundation for Government Accountability, “Since implementing work requirements and time limits, the number of able-bodied adults on food stamps [in Kansas] dropped by 75 percent. Nearly 60 percent of those leaving food stamps found employment within 12 months and their incomes rose by an average of 127 percent per year.”

The reforms laid out above are common ground proposals that ensure those who need assistance are able to receive it. The legislation prevents criminals from taking advantage of welfare recipients and taxpayers. It reduces the cost of the social safety net for state government. Best of all, it provides an incredible opportunity for folks who are able to move out of welfare dependency and poverty to a better life.

Chris Brown is a Republican member of the Mississippi House of Representatives from Nettleton serving District 20. He is the author of House Bill 1090. Readers can contact him at crbrown@house.ms.gov

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