NASHVILLE — Legislation designed to combat welfare fraud in Tennessee is headed to the Senate floor for a final vote after being approved by the Senate State and Local Government Committee this week. Senate Bill 365, sponsored by Senator Kerry Roberts (R-Springfield), requires agencies within state government to communicate with each other to identify people who are receiving benefits for which they are not eligible.
Studies estimate Tennessee loses approximately $123 million per year in fraudulent payments to people who are not actually qualified to receive benefits.
“Any money that is obtained through fraud in the welfare system costs the taxpayers of Tennessee money,” said Senator Roberts. “But more importantly, it makes less money available to those who qualify for benefits and really need assistance.”
Called the Program Integrity Act of 2017, the legislation creates a new system of enhanced verification in Tennessee, requiring the Department of Human Services (DHS) to conduct quarterly data matches against information databases to help eliminate fraudulent payments that are being made. It also authorizes DHS to join a multistate cooperative for identifying individuals who currently receive Tennessee benefits but who live in other states. In addition, the Bureau of TennCare would be required to verify wage and income information, immigration status, and vital records information for each applicant or enrollee once their new automated electronic eligibility system is operational. The state has been continuing development of the Tennessee Eligibility Determination System (TEDS) to help detect those who misuse the welfare system.
“As people move, get jobs, pass away, or simply falsify their economic statuses, this new computerized crosscheck system will help detect fraud, ensuring that those who receive benefits are those who actually qualify,” added Sen. Roberts
In addition to the new enhanced verification system, the legislation also requires the Tennessee Education Lottery Corporation to make a monthly report to DHS of all individuals who collect a prize of more than $5,000 to ensure that those who exceed income requirements do not continue to collect taxpayer-supported payments. While federal rules require recipients to self-report this income, this change simply adds an extra layer of security to the process by requiring the Lottery Corporation to report these winnings so that it can be crosschecked through the system.
If approved by the full Senate, the bill which passed the House of Representatives earlier this year, will go to the governor for his signature.