The state Assembly cleared a package of bills Tuesday designed to target fraud in welfare programs, while state Democrats failed earlier in the day in an attempt to use a procedural tactic to bring a student debt bill to the floor.
Assembly approves welfare package
The series of measures would delete unused FoodShare benefits after one year of inactivity, require a recipient’s photo be included on cards required to use food stamps and limit the number of replacement cards issued in a 12-month period.
A separate proposal, authored by state Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem, would ban those who falsify records on unemployment benefit applications from reapplying for a seven-year period.
Proponents of the bills said they were critical in preserving the integrity of the programs and tax dollars.
“This is being stolen from employers who have a legitimate claim to those dollars,” state Rep. John Macco, R-Ledgeview, said.
But Democratic lawmakers objected, saying the bills create unnecessary burdens for the poor and argued that it would cost too much to implement.
“This is a bad bill … that just makes it harder for people to eat, chasing after fraud that we don’t have proof exists,” Rep. Mark Spreitzer, D-Beloit, said of the bill that would delete inactive food stamps. “There is no evidence of fraud from this population.”
There are also questions about whether the bills would run afoul of Federal law. Some of the provisions in the bills would require a waiver from the federal government, which provides funding to the programs, to implement.
Past welfare changes have come under similar scrutiny. The federal agency which runs the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program raised issues last week with a 2013 rule which requires food stamp recipients to work a certain number of hours a week to maintain their benefits.
The body also approved a measure authored by state Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, to make Narcan more widely available in an effort to combat heroin addiction, as well as a bill to legalize pink camouflage in hunting, proposed by state Rep. Joel Kleefisch, R-Oconomowoc.
The bills now head to the state Senate.
Body refuses to take up college debt bill
An attempt by Democrats to force a vote on a bill that would help students refinance their college debt failed earlier in the day, although Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said he would be open to taking up the bill later.
Bill co-author state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine, said he was upset his “Higher Ed, Lower Debt” bill hasn’t received a public hearing in the Assembly and said Wisconsin has the third highest student loan debt in the nation.
“We have literally a million people in this state dealing with student loan debt, many of whom are paying double digit interest rates,” Mason said.
Vos said the bill is too pricey for the body to take up at this time, noting its cost is more than the state’s present budget surplus.
“We cannot constitutionally take it up,” Vos said. “It is not ready for prime time … but I am open to working on the issue.”