Legislation that would require state agencies to verify the eligibility of all applicants for welfare benefits, and require every applicant to complete an identity authentication process, squeaked through a House panel Tuesday on a party-line vote.
House Bill 1270 by Rep. Elise Hall, R-Oklahoma City, received a do-pass recommendation from the Rules Committee on a 4-3 vote. All four “ayes” were cast by Republicans, and the “nays” were cast by the three Democrats on the panel.
HB 1270 would direct the Oklahoma Health Care Authority (OHCA) and the Department of Human Services (DHS) to verify the eligibility of every applicant for Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps)
Hall said her measure is “a work in progress” intended to ensure that “people who truly need” state welfare benefits “are receiving them.” The State of Oklahoma has “limited resources.”
“Has there been evidence of inappropriate receipt of benefits?” asked Rep. Meloyde Blancett, D-Tulsa.
Not in Oklahoma, but in other states, Hall said. Unofficial records indicate several lottery winners in Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan and New York improperly received public welfare benefits.
For example, a New York resident who began receiving $1,000 each week in 1998 after winning a scratch-off lottery game was charged with fraud in 2012 after collecting more than $4,000 in welfare benefits. And a Michigan woman received $5,475 in food and medical benefits after winning $1 million in the lottery.
Hall said she just wants to “make sure there’s no fraud and abuse in our benefit programs.” Her legislation would demonstrate that “we’re wisely using tax dollars,” she said.
HB 1270 would instruct the OHCA and the DHS to review, on a quarterly basis, information about program recipients that might affect their continued eligibility for public benefits. “Often times the state is checking these only once a year,” Hall claimed.
Hall said her measure is modeled on legislation from other states. Rep. David Perryman said HB 1270 is “cookie-cutter legislation” patterned after a proposal developed by the Foundation for Government Accountability.
HB 1270 would be “a new, expensive mandate” that would simply duplicate existing practices, Perryman asserted.