Howell, Roberts legislation focused on tackling Tennessee welfare fraud

By BRIAN GRAVES Banner Staff Writer
Posted 2/17/17

State Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown) said in August he wanted to tackle what he terms welfare fraud in the current session of the state Legislature.

That process has now begun.

The Program …

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Howell, Roberts legislation focused on tackling Tennessee welfare fraud

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State Rep. Dan Howell (R-Georgetown) said in August he wanted to tackle what he terms welfare fraud in the current session of the state Legislature.

That process has now begun.

The Program Integrity Act (HB-227) is sponsored by Howell in the Tennessee House of Representatives and in the state Senate (SB-365) by state Sen. Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield).

It is designed to find and eliminate welfare fraud and abuse in Tennessee.

The bill passed the House Health Subcommittee on a unanimous vote Wednesday afternoon and is now headed to the full Health Committee next week.

“Sen. Roberts and I have worked with the Department of Human Services and Department of TennCare for more than two years to craft a bill that we believe will give these departments another tool to help reduce welfare fraud in our state,” Howell said.

The representative told the Cleveland Daily Banner in August that he was planning a bill that not “will go after people who are on welfare if they need to be on welfare."

Roberts pointed out during a press conference that analysts with the Foundation for Government Accountability, a Florida-based think tank, estimate that as much as $123 million is lost annually in fraudulent welfare payments in Tennessee. The FGA has stated that it is funded primarily by individuals, with the remainder coming from private foundations and businesses.

“This bill creates a system of ‘enhanced verification’ and requires DHS to conduct data matches against other government data bases. This system will help verify addresses, job status, income and other information necessary to determine if the welfare recipient is still eligible,” Roberts said.

Howell noted today’s society is more mobile than in the past.

“People move away, move to another state, find a job, pass away, and some will use fraudulent means to get government assistance. This bill will allow DHS to explore joining a multi-state cooperative for identifying people who are receiving welfare benefits in other states,” Howell said.

The bill specifically addresses the Tennessee Assistance for Needy Families program and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Enhanced verification will not only verify welfare eligibility at application but monitor eligibility throughout the year with the cross check of various data bases.

“Individuals who commit welfare fraud not only steal from taxpayers, they rob valuable resources intended to reach the most truly needy Tennesseans,” Howell said.

“This legislation will empower the state to pinpoint those collecting benefits in other states, remove deceased individuals from the welfare rolls, and safeguard our resources for those who legitimately need them,” Roberts added.

The bill also has a lottery component that requires the Tennessee Lottery Cooperation to notify the Department of Human Services on a monthly basis if any welfare recipient wins a lottery prize of $5,000 or more.

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