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Editorial: Incentive to fight welfare fraud worth exploring

7:39 PM, May 7, 2013  |  Comments
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A proposal that would let counties benefit financially from cracking down on welfare fraud is a great idea that we hope gains traction at the state and federal level.

Under the proposal, counties could keep 20 percent of the welfare fraud they uncover instead of sending that money to the federal government.

The plan would act as an incentive for counties to take on abuse. "With this proposal there's a reason for them to fight fraud and abuse, they can have additional funds and staff," said state Rep. Chad Weininger, R-Allouez.

Weininger is co-author of the proposal along with state Reps. Eric Genrich, D-Green Bay, and Andre Jacque, R-De Pere.

In prioritizing how they spend their money, some counties may not go after welfare fraud, especially with diminishing returns.

Last year, Brown County recouped $82,291 for its prevention efforts but spent $193,210, according to Weininger, who got his figures from Brown County Human Services. The county would have recouped $264,734 had the legislation been in place.

That's not to say Brown County needs a carrot dangled in front of it to take on fraud. Last July, for example, the Brown County Sheriff's Department asked the district attorney to charge three De Pere residents as part of a FoodShare fraud case at Beach Road Liquor in Green Bay. The three were later convicted on fraud charges.

But the financial incentive would let the county fully fund an assistant district attorney and two deputies instead of relying on taxpayers, according to Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach.

Welfare fraud isn't rampant - authorities estimate 1 percent of Brown County recipients are responsible for fraud allegations - but when $3 million in FoodShare benefits are distributed each month in Brown County, someone has to make sure it's being properly spent.

Without the oversight, unfortunately, there are those who will look to game the system. And with taxpayer money at stake, local authorities need to be able to investigate possible cases of abuse, fraud and waste.

This incentive will help do that. The bipartisan effort shows what can happen when both sides of the aisle work together instead of in opposition.

The proposal hasn't been introduced yet. It will be circulated for co-sponsors until May 17. After that time we hope that the legislation can make its way through the Legislature and not get bogged down.

The legislation needs approval at both levels of government, and we're hoping that the state and federal lawmakers can exhibit the same type of bipartisan cooperation that generated this proposal.

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