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Ohio is one of several states looking to reduce fraud in food stamps and related benefits programs, and Democrats oppose the effort.
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Ohio Sen. Tim Schaffer is holding pictures of what he said shows SNAP cards that were found in drug houses. Schaffer is sponsoring a bill that seeks to decrease fraud in Ohio social services, but advocates for the poor say the extra checks and verifications would cut people off services.
COLUMBUS, Ohio – An Ohio Senate bill that seeks to catch fraud among people applying for and receiving social services will result in increased work for county case workers, as well as fewer low-income people obtaining food aid, Medicaid and unemployment benefits, advocates for the poor said Wednesday.
Senate Bill 17 requires case workers to cross-check applicants and enrollees against state data such as new hire records, wage records, lottery winnings and death records, said sponsor Sen. Tim Schaffer, a Lancaster Republican.
Schaffer held up pictures during Wednesday’s Ohio Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee of food aid debit cards he said were found by investigators in drug houses. He said catching the fraud is important because it’s taking benefits away from those who need it.
Some of the most sweeping changes in SB 17 would be in SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
SB 17 would require color photo identification of at least one adult in every household on Ohio Direction cards, the debit SNAP card.
SNAP recipients would also be subject to more rigorous asset maximums. Generally, a household’s liquid assets would have to fall below $2,250, or $3,500 if the household has an elderly or disabled member. A vehicle could be worth up to $4,650. Such limits do not currently exist in the program.
“If you’re a family in need and you have a car at home which you use to get to work, but you are having a hard time affording groceries for your family, you’ll be forced with the decision: Do you sell your vehicle, which you use to get to work, or do you keep the food from the stomachs of your kids, which is an impossible decision for a parent to make,” testified Kimberly LoVano, the Greater Cleveland Food Bank’s director of advocacy and education, at the committee meeting.
To continue to be eligible for SNAP, households would have to report changes in income within 10 days of learning of the changes, which is not currently required.
LoVano argued that reporting income changes is not reasonable in the cases of people who work in retail or food service. They constantly pick up or lose shifts each month.
“I can tell you fluctuation of one to two shifts a month is the norm, not the exception,” she said.
Other changes in SB 17 would again force Ohio Medicaid to require many recipients of the joint state and federal health care program to work or go to school part-time. Work requirements need federal permission to implement. Ohio Medicaid had received an OK to develop them, but with the pandemic they were delayed. Then President Joe Biden’s administration said it would rescind all state work requirements.
Most of the changes to unemployment would require checking prison records to ensure people who are applying for benefits weren’t recently incarcerated.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, told lawmakers her colleagues in other states are fighting the exact same bill. It’s backed by the Foundation for Government Accountability, a conservative-leaning group. Hamler-Fugitt believes the ultimate goal is to weaken social safety net programs.
Sam Adolphsen, a visiting fellow with the Foundation for Government Accountability’s Opportunity Solutions Project, testified to the committee on Feb. 10.
“Senate Bill 17 is a practical and principled bill. It is comprehensive, but it is also a straightforward piece of legislation that establishes best practices and commonsense safeguards,” he said. “The bill is practical because, right now, Ohio faces a serious crisis. The pandemic and shutdown have created havoc for the Ohio economy and state budget. That challenge, made worse by federal changes that bind your hands, has thrown your benefits programs into chaos.”
Hamler-Fugitt, on the other hand, said that SB 17 is overly broad, when the real fraud problem is with pandemic unemployment benefits. Last year, Ohio paid out $330 million in fraudulent claims. Experts say much of that fraud is being perpetrated by sophisticated scammers, often from outside the country.
“Our problem right now is with the unemployment compensation system,” she said. “I’m pleading with you: Do something about where we are hemorrhaging resources now.”