MADISON (AP) - Gov. Scott Walker vowed this week to step up oversight of public aid programs, after a newspaper investigation uncovered multiple instances of fraud.
Walker ordered the state health department to implement six strategies, including a requirement that people who are self-employed and receiving assistance submit tax returns, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported.
"We don't want to in any way keep people from getting assistance that is warranted, that they're legitimately qualified for, that they need at the time, but that shouldn't be our overriding focal point," Walker said Thursday. "It should be on hitting that balance ... and making sure we're good stewards of taxpayer dollars."
Recent Journal Sentinel investigations uncovered instances where regulators failed to verify an applicant's actual income, or where aid recipients who have a number of rental properties were able to keep their rental income hidden without regulators asking questions.
In a subsequent investigation, the newspaper found that federal incentives to boost enrollment in food and medical assistance programs led to pressure on workers to issue benefits even when they suspected applicants might not be eligible.
Walker said one of his strategies will be to engage federal officials to discuss the incentives.
Other measures include a pilot program in Milwaukee County that beefs up scrutiny of certain cases that have suspicious circumstances.
Fraud investigators welcomed the policy changes but said they'd like additional measures as well. For example, they said the best way to determine whether people are hiding assets is to have access to their credit reports, bank information and property ownership.
Applicants currently fill out a one-page form.
Some counties have piloted a program that accesses the additional financial information, but it costs $100 per month per user, which prohibits some counties from accessing it, said Sue Rhode, a former president of the Wisconsin Association on Public Assistance Fraud. She said it would help if the state provided everyone access to that system.
She also said the asset test would uncover some fraud in assistance for food benefits, but the real problem is in assistance for medical assistance. That's where people are more likely to hide assets when applying for assistance, she said.
The issue, however, is that an asset limit can't be placed on most medical assistance programs without a federal waiver.
"It's a shame. It's a real shame," she said about not having a federal waiver. "Someone can have $200,000 in their bank account and we don't even look at it."
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