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Welfare Fraud Pilot Program Could Save Hundreds of Millions

Five states have been running a welfare fraud prevention pilot program that supporters say could save taxpayers across the country hundreds of millions of dollars a year. Two members of Maine’s Congressional Delegation say they would like to the system used nationwide.

The National Accuracy Clearinghouse compares databases of food stamp recipients in five southern states, searching for applicants who are trying get benefits in more than one state. In the first year the savings were reported at over $5 million, even though only a very small fraction of recipients have claimed benefits in two or more states.

But with more than 45 million Americans now receiving benefits under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, it’s estimated that the fraud prevention program could save more than $100 million a year if adopted in all states.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine says he supports the program.

“I think it makes sense, I mean nobody is for fraud, and we are talking about scarce taxpayers dollars here and to the extent we can diminish fraud, we should,” he says.

The five states using the pilot program say it also reduces mistakes, as the database is updated daily, allowing eligibility screeners to respond quickly.

Democratic U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine’s 1st District says that is important because there are often good reasons why an applicant would seek benefits in more than one state. It might involve a child, for example, with parents sharing custody from different states.

Pingree says Congress should consider paying for the program, it because it can be adapted to other welfare programs such as TANF and Medicaid.

“I absolutely think we should implement a system like this that works on all entitlement programs,” she says. “The last thing we want is to have fraud or abuse of these systems, and given the sophistication of software today we should be able to do this fairly simply.”

Westbrook Rep. Drew Gattine, a Democrat who co-chairs the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, says Maine should be using technology to prevent mistakes and catch fraud within the welfare system.

A spokeswoman for DHHS says the program is being looked at by the agency.