A new law to fight fraud in Mississippi's welfare programs is expected to be signed by the governor.
Supporters say The "Medicaid and Human Services Transparency and Fraud Prevention Act" or Hope Act, is designed to ferret out fraud. It targets the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Programs,l known as TANF and SNAP. The law calls for the Division of Medicaid to hire a private firm to audit the agency and the Department of Human Services. Jameson Taylor is with the Mississippi Center for Public Policy.
"So what these audits are going to find and what other states have found is: you're going to find thousands of dead people that are on your programs and these could be fraudsters who are using social security numbers that belong to dead people," said Taylor.
Taylor says people from other states could also be collecting Mississippi benefits. If an audit turns up discrepancies with Medicaid or DHS, the applicant or recipient will be contacted. They have ten days to respond in writing. If they don't, their benefits could be discontinued. Matt Williams is with the Mississippi Low-Income Child Care Initiative. He says the law is unnecessary.
"The state will end up paying millions to a private company to perform identify verifications, to do identify verifications that the state is already doing effectively," said Williams.
Williams adds the timeline given for recipients to respond to inquiries is short and could be a barrier for some. Williams says children are at risk of losing benefits, if their parents miss a scheduled appointment. Jameson Taylor with the Mississippi Center for Public Policy, says the law also requires able-bodied adults to work or obtain job training.
A spokesperson for Governor Phil Bryant says in a statement, Bryant has worked his entire career toward eliminating waste, fraud and abuse within the state's welfare program. He says this law will advance those efforts.