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COLUMBUS -- State officials would conduct more frequent checks of tax, real estate and other records of residents receiving public assistance through certain programs to ensure they are eligible, under legislation being introduced in the Ohio House and Senate.
Reps. Mike Henne (R-Clayton) and Robert McColley (R-Napoleon) and Sen. Bill Coley (R-West Chester) announced the bills Wednesday as part of efforts to cut down on fraud in Medicaid and food stamp programs.
"Let me emphasize: This is not removing benefits for people who really are in need of assistance," Henne said during a late morning press conference at the Statehouse.
Coley added, "You know who you are, if you're cheating the system. You know that you don't qualify. You know that you shouldn't be receiving benefits from the state. Stop it. Stop it right now, because we're going to catch you, and when we catch you, you're going to get criminal prosecution."
The bill would require the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services to crosscheck residents receiving benefits through Medicaid or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance programs with income tax, lottery, real estate, voting and other records to pinpoint potential changes in their eligibility.
Comparable cross-checks are currently completed annually; the legislation announced Wednesday would require them quarterly.
Needy residents would not have to complete any additional paperwork or other requirements -- all of the crosschecks would be conducted by the state agency, behind the scenes, the lawmakers said.
Coley cited cases of individuals owning million-dollar homes in Maine or dead people in Illinois who were receiving public assistance. In some cases, individuals living in one state were enrolled in public benefits in another.
"This is anti-fraud legislation," Coley said. "There's only a fixed number of dollars that can go around, and the key is to get those dollars to the people who truly need them."
McColley added, "This is primarily about being good stewards of taxpayer dollars We are in a time where there is an increased demand for all of these dollars, especially in these entitlement programs."
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said she had not yet read the proposed legislation, but she said the federal regulations for Medicaid and SNAP are clear about recipients' responsibilities.
"If there is any change in their income, they are required by law to notify the county ," she said. "And if they don't do that and it's determined that they didn't follow the program requirements, then they are subject to being sanctioned from the program and being responsible to repay the costs of those benefits We believe that anyone who commits fraud in the program should be punished."
But Hamler-Fugitt also said upward of 85 percent of the recipients of such assistance are children, elderly or disabled, with incomes that generally aren't changing.
Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.