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Bill in legislature would require periodic checks for welfare eligibility

DES MOINES — A Republican senator is crafting a plan to have the state hire a company that would monitor financial data and flag Iowans who may not be eligible for government food assistance or Medicaid health coverage.

“To apply technology to what’s currently a manual system, to remove from the process those whose situations haven’t changed and only check those where something popped up,” says Senator Jason Schultz, a Republican from Schleswig. His plan is a work in process, but his initial draft has cleared its first hurdle in the senate.

Meanwhile key Republicans in the Iowa House are temporarily tabling a plan to require Iowans who get government food assistance or insurance through Medicaid to prove they’re eligible for it every four months. Officials in the state agency that oversees welfare programs say they’d have to hire 280 more full-time workers and spend millions if THAT bill becomes law. Mark Randol is Iowa Medicaid director.  “As far as all the changes required from this bill, it would be significant system configuration changes,” Randol said, “and that equals cost.”

Matt Blake, a lobbyist for LeadingAge Iowa, says requiring nursing home residents to prove they’re eligible for Medicaid every quarter would be excessive and disruptive. “We in the provider side with this type of population tend to assist with eligibility of income,” he says. “At the same time, with guardians and those type of individuals, we would have to work to track them down, make sure we have people constantly trying to keep that verification solid.”

Victoria Sinclair, a lobbyist for Iowans for Tax Relief, says other states are requiring more frequent income reporting to determine whether people are eligible for government benefits.  “We do need to protect taxpayer dollars and make sure they’re being spent effectively, appropriately and reasonably and making sure the people who are on the system do qualify,” Sinclair says.

MaryNell Trefz of the Iowa Child and Family Policy Center is among the advocates urging legislators to table the bill. “Our state already has a very robust eligibility vertification system,” she says. Trefz says state officials do monthly cross-checks to ensure Iowa welfare recipients are not getting benefits from another state.

Republican legislators have scheduled a meeting in February with staff from two state agencies to assess how high Iowa’s welfare fraud rate may be. After that meeting, GOP lawmakers in the House say it’s likely they’ll reconsider ways to crack down on welfare fraud.

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