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Legislative News and Views - Rep. Steve Drazkowski (R)

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Thursday, March 29, 2012
Last fall, I was talking to a police officer who told me about his discovery of individuals in this state who owned and possessed multiple driver’s licenses in order to pad their pocketbook at the expense of Minnesota taxpayers. In order to collect Minnesota’s generous welfare benefits, one of the prerequisites is proof of identity. A driver’s license with your picture on it is really all you need. In this case, the same person’s picture was found on several different Minnesota drivers’ licenses – each one displaying a different name and Minnesota address, enabling this scam artist to walk away with thousands of dollars in taxpayer-funded state assistance. Common sense would indicate that this must have been the one rare case that slipped through the cracks, and that surely the Departments of Human Services (DHS) and Public Safety share records with each other and constantly investigate these matters. Sadly, we’re talking about state government and huge bureaucracies, which is usually the place where common sense goes to die. In this instance, there is no sharing of data between the departments – but it’s not due to a lack of want. Next, I convened a meeting with representatives from DHS as well as Public Safety’s Driver Vehicle Services Division (DVS), where I found eagerness within the agencies to begin a stronger working relationship and to more intensely scrutinize those who commit welfare fraud. Earlier, DVS told me that it was implementing the application of facial recognition software against the state driver’s license and identification photo database, a process I quickly realized could be very beneficial to those working to end fraud within Human Services programs. While updating the millions of records on file, they found and revoked well over seven thousand fraudulent drivers’ licenses. Although it’s a misdemeanor for anyone to apply for a driver’s license that is unqualified to receive one, I learned that in the past the state has rarely prosecuted this offense. Based on this and other information I collected, I’m authoring a plan this session that tackles welfare fraud head-on, promotes inter-agency cooperation to battle this growing problem, and kicks illegal aliens out of Minnesota’s welfare programs. First, the bill will require DVS to share elements of their facial recognition data with DHS on an ongoing basis. With this in mind, the legislation then requires DHS to compare data from the more than seven thousand fraudulent driver’s licenses discovered by DVS to the list of the 800,000 enrollees in Minnesota’s very generous welfare programs. DHS will then identify the people who illegally or improperly signed up for welfare and terminate their benefits. It also requires DHS to report those who illegally obtained the identification and benefits to the county attorney. Secondly, DVS keeps track of when a Minnesota driver’s license expires for a person from a foreign land who is living here temporarily. The bill requires DVS and DHS to share this data, so that when the legal presence of someone on public assistance expires, and they are no longer in the United States legally, DHS will terminate their welfare benefits and notify the county attorney. Finally, there’s the issue of drug testing. Current law requires if an enrollee in the Minnesota Family Investment Program (MFIP) or the General Assistance (GA) program has a felony drug conviction, he or she must participate in mandatory drug testing in order to receive benefits. One problem: DHS and the court system don’t currently share the drug conviction information with each other, meaning that out of the hundreds of thousands of people currently receiving assistance from these programs, a grand total of 82 are currently being tested, only because they self identified their drug crimes with DHS. Obviously, my bill will require a sharing of information between the courts and DHS to identify all of the recipients who have been convicted of drug crimes, and for these folks to submit to drug testing according to the law, or their enrollment in these respective programs will be terminated. How bad is the welfare fraud problem in Minnesota? No one can say with any degree of certainty, but if adopted into law, the bill also requires DHS to report how much fraud the agency discovered and ended by April, 2013. My bill will forge a collaborative effort, and with the enthusiasm expressed by the office within DHS that is charged with ending welfare fraud, I’m confident this is a measure Governor Dayton will support.
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