By Victor Skinner | The Center Square contributor
The House and Governmental Affairs Committee approved legislation to require state agencies to annually report progress on eliminating fraud, waste and abuse to the Legislature.
The committee voted unanimously on Tuesday to approve Senate Bill 259, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, to require the departments of Children and Family Services, Education, Health, and the Louisiana Workforce Commission to report to the legislature annually regarding policies and processes for identifying and eliminating fraud, waste, and abuse of certain government-funded programs.
The “Public Benefit Integrity Law” is specifically targeted at Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Family Independence Temporary Assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants, and Children, unemployment compensation, and the Child Care Assistance Program.
“Basically what we’re doing is we’re asking those departments that have certain programs to tell us kind of what they’re doing in the area of fraud, waste and abuse,” Hewitt said. “We’re basically asking those entities … to just give us a little information about how things work in their department.”
“We’re trying to ask things that aren’t creating any work for them. It’s things they should already be keeping up with so that we can basically get a little more educated about how things are working and see if there’s things we can do legislatively that would help them,” she said.
SB 259 would task the departments with producing an annual report by Feb. 15 each year, starting in 2023, with information on total dollar amount and percentage of budget allocated to program integrity and elimination of fraud, waste and abuse. The departments would also be required to describe current policies and practices to reduce fraud, waste and abuse, as well as information about benefits improperly received, policies and procedures regarding eligibility, efforts to identify and remove those deemed ineligible, and verification of federal or state work requirements.
The reports would also need to include the frequency with which agencies perform verifications, description of any barriers to improving integrity measures, and “a description of all metrics and data points used by the agency to measure success of the program, including all metrics and data points related to program integrity and fraud.”
“This is really just seeking some information … because what we all want is for the dollars to go toward the people to which they were intended to go to,” Hewitt said. “When we’re losing money due to fraud, waste or abuse, then it’s not going to those programs it’s supposed to, so it could be there are barriers we’re unaware of that we could help fix if we just understood it a little bit better.
“So this is just the first step in that process,” she said.
Lawmakers on the committee questioned how the information would be useful, and how it differs from current audits through the Louisiana Legislative Auditor.
Hewitt said the reports will likely capture much of the same information as the LLA audits, but would come directly from the departments to identify issues that prevent officials from eliminating waste and fraud.
Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, also questioned why the legislation doesn’t include other programs, such as the state’s industrial tax exemption program and business recovery grants.
“I was trying to keep this a little bit manageable and focus on those that are benefiting our citizenry, as opposed to some of the other programs,” Hewitt said.
Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, said she believes it’s important to focus in on benefits that are intended to help families, citing the state’s struggle with childhood hunger.
“We need to make sure the money is used to benefit the family, so I’m hoping that through this … we can even get suggestions from these departments on what best practices are, what other states are doing that we can legislate them to do that would make a bigger impact on our families,” she said.
SB 259 was supported by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and several individuals, while the Louisiana Budget Project testified in opposition.
“Our concern is that if we only look at the fraud side of the ledger and we don’t also have detailed, comprehensive data for each of these programs about how procedural problems keep people who should by law be eligible from receiving benefits from actually accessing those benefits, we’re likely to make bad policy and bad law,” said David Mintz, director of safety net policy for LBP.