Legislature To Consider Adding Photo ID As Part Of FoodShare Program

Backers Say GOP Bills Designed To Root Out Fraud

Wisconsin State Capitol
Phil Roeder (CC-BY-NC-ND)

Republican legislators are looking for ways to prevent fraud in the state’s food stamp and unemployment benefits programs.

Two bills will get a hearing on Tuesday. One of them would require the state to get a federal waiver to add a photo to FoodShare debit cards. Republican backers say the program lost more than $6 million in food stamp overpayments last year, some of it due to people selling their cards for cash. That amounts to 1.5 percent of the $1 billion spent on food stamps.

Democrats oppose the bill. State Rep. Andy Jorgensen, D-Milton, said the $7 million start-up cost for making and issuing the cards outweighs any savings.

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“We’d be spending more than we’d save,” said Jorgenson. “For taxpayers, it’s a terrible deal.”

The Assembly Committee on Public Benefit Reform will also hear testimony on a bill that would penalize people who defraud the unemployment benefits program more than once.

State Rep. Samantha Kerkman, R-Salem, is sponsoring what she calls the “two strikes and you’re out” bill. It imposes a seven-year ban on receiving unemployment benefits for anyone who intentionally defrauds the system more than once. She said an audit of unemployment overpayments over a three-year period found more than 44,000 false claims totaling more than $80 million.

“As employers are putting in to that system, that leaves less money for people who actually need unemployment. So I believe there’s millions on the table that we could help to save in the future,” Kerkman said.

Democrats say the bill is mean-spirited and could penalize people who get overpaid simply because they made a careless error on a claim form.

Legislators will also hear testimony on a bill that would require food stamp recipients to show a photo ID when buying groceries. It’s estimated that ongoing costs for implementing the FoodShare photo ID would be $2 million a year.

A report published last December by the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism found that the number of food stamp recipients has grown dramatically over the past eight years, but it began to drop last year as the state beefed up its anti-fraud efforts. Since Gov. Scott Walker was elected, there’s been a tenfold increase in the number people kicked off the program, from 102 in 2011 to more than a thousand last year.