Every year, millions of taxpayer dollars are doled out to help Oklahoma families in need through public assistance programs. Some of these funds are given to individuals through fraudulent means who do not qualify for them. Sen. Josh Brecheen plans to help address some of the waste through two bills filed this week.
"Public assistance fraud costs our state millions of dollars each year. That is money that could be used for other vital state services like education or public safety," said Brecheen, R-Coalgate. "As legislators and public citizens, it's our duty to be good stewards of tax dollars and these bills will help ensure that money is only given to families who qualify for the funds and desperately need them."
SB 1010 is an effort to remind citizens about an existing program that provides financial incentives to those who report Medicaid fraud. The Oklahoma Medicaid False Claims Acts provides that any person who reports a false claim made under the Medicaid program may be entitled to receive between 15 and 25 percent of the recovered amount. The bill calls for posting signs at all county Department of Human Services (DHS) offices to remind them of the incentive program. The sign would include the hotline citizens can call (800) 784-5887 to report fraud.
SB 1011 would authorize DHS to conduct random drug testing for those enrolled in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program, which is the cash assistance program formerly known as “welfare”. The federal program provides up to five years of support in meeting basic needs, job training, employment services and childcare assistance for qualified families with children.
Currently, in Oklahoma, all applicants for TANF benefits are screened for substance abuse using a written questionnaire. If there is an indication of possible substance abuse, the individual is referred to a contracted treatment provider who conducts a more extensive evaluation that may include a urine test. If there is a recommendation for treatment, that service is incorporated in the self-sufficiency plan. Compliance with the self-sufficiency plan is required by all adult TANF recipients to continue to receive the TANF benefit.
“Over 21,000 Oklahoma families enrolled in the TANF program last year. The point behind this bill is not to harass those recipients but simply to prevent any abuse of the system. Currently, individuals are only drug tested if their answers on the questionnaire raise suspicion at DHS. But it’s easy to lie and mislead DHS when caseworkers aren’t meeting face to face with these families on a regular basis, if ever,” said Brecheen. “If applicants have a drug or alcohol problem that has led them to need government assistance, of course they’re going to lie on the questionnaire and do all they can to prevent DHS from finding out why they can’t get or keep a job. By blindly giving them free money we’re not helping solve the problem, we’re just further enabling these individuals. We need to help these people get treatment for their addiction.”
There are three states that have passed TANF drug testing bills: Michigan, Florida, and Missouri. The Michigan and Florida laws were challenged and not upheld in court. The Missouri law is less restrictive and has not been challenged.
Brecheen pointed to the fact that six Senate bills in all have been filed on creating a random drug testing program for TANF recipients showing what an important issue this is to legislators and their constituents.