Another measure targeting federal assistance programs for low-income and needy Oklahomans advanced Thursday in the Legislature.
“Why are they focusing on the fraud of particular people and having citizens becoming the fraud police?” asked Rep. Richard Morrissette, a member of the House of Representatives Government Modernization committee.
“My friends on the right are hunting down a dead-end road. It's a war on the poor, a systemic, consistent war on the least among us and that's what this Legislature has been doing all session long.”
The committee voted 8-1, with Morrissette opposed, to pass Senate Bill 456, which would authorize the Department of Human Services to post signs explaining how to report people who are using fraudulent means to get welfare payments.
The House passed measures this year creating new requirements for those who receive assistance, such as requiring recipients to work more hours, or prohibiting certain people, such as those convicted of drug crimes or those who have $5,000 or more in assets, from receiving benefits.
“Why don't they go after real money instead of worrying about whether Grandma is getting TANF for her grandbabies?” asked Morrissette, D-Oklahoma City.
He suggested the Republican-controlled Legislature go after overbilling of medical services and inefficient business tax credits.
Rep. Arthur Hulbert, R-Oklahoma City, the House sponsor of the measure, said it would allow people to anonymously report suspected cases of people fraudulently receiving benefits from Medicaid, the low-income health care program, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also called food stamps, and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, often called welfare.
People now call a DHS hotline, but they have to give their names.
“People may see stuff and a lot of times the biggest hesitation among people is their desire to be anonymous,” he said.
The measure calls for DHS to post signs in every DHS county office. SB 456 now goes to the House Calendar Committee, which will decide if it will get a hearing in the House.
Hulbert said he didn't know if there was widespread fraud involving people receiving federal assistance.
“I'll speculate that there probably is and I hear of people,” he said. “But have I personally witnessed it? I haven't.”
Hulbert said another bill that asks people to call a hotline to report providers who may be fraudulently providing benefits wasn't ready for Thursday's hearing. It will be presented next week, he said.
Morrissette said the biggest fraud involving federal assistance occurs by some providers, but GOP lawmakers aren't going after them “because their buddies are providing the services.”