The Dennison piece was far more problematic for me, because it gave more credence to the witnesses than their testimony suggested they deserved.
Most importantly, Dennison didn’t question the motives of the three witnesses, all of whom suggested—directly or indirectly—that there is a rampant fraud in public assistance programs in Montana, without providing any direct evidence that is the case. Instead, legislators and the public were regaled with third-hand tales of clients taking “benefits while driving Hummers” and clients with over a million dollars (cue Dr. Evil voice) receiving Food Stamps. His story ignored that bias, as well as the public e-mail sent by one of the witnesses comparing assistance recipients to animals.
While Dennison framed the sham testimony—which, though under oath—did not include the chance for serious examination from Democrats as a series of good questions, but the evidence presented in the testimony and the Dennison piece demonstrates that the state is already doing an excellent job rooting out fraud and those undserving of benefits. From the Dennison piece, using DPHHS statistics:
Yes, the state has goals for welfare eligibility workers, saying they should be able to tell 70 percent of the applicants the day they apply whether they qualify. Last year, 16 percent of Medicaid applicants were rejected, as were 30 percent of Food Stamp applicants and 58 percent of TANF applications.
Given the ability of state workers to process those claims, it hardly seems unreasonable to due it in a timely fashion, given that those who need public asssitance likely can’t wait.
And that’s how John Adams began his story in the Great Falls Tribune, with a reference to Melissa Smylie, a woman who has used public assistance to keep herself and her family afloat after a work injury. Despite the claims that public assistance reduces work ethic, Smylie makes it clear that those who receive state welfare assistance have stringent standards they need to follow:
In order to qualify for that monthly cash assistance payment, Smylie needs to spend 33 hours per week on supervised work-related activities. In her case, that means she has to sign in and sign out when she goes to classes and each time she studies.
The Adams piece also makes clear that rates of fraud in public assistance programs are incredibly low. He cites Matt Russell from Drake University, who said:
“I can say emphatically that the SNAP program is one of the very best government programs. It has one of the lowest rates of fraud and abuse, one of the highest multiplier effects,” Russell said.
This confirms the reporting of the New York Times, who noted in 2013 that rates of fraud for the food stamps program have declined sharply—while rates of fraud in the agriculture subsidies have led to hundreds of millions of dollars of losses:
Government audits and court records show hundreds of millions of dollars in losses due to fraud in a variety of farm programs, including crop insurance and subsidies that help agribusinesses promote their products abroad. The rate of food stamp fraud, on the other hand, has declined sharply in recent years, federal data shows, and now accounts for 1 percent of the $75 billion program, or about $750 million a year.
Specious, hearsay anecdotes about welfare fraud, whether from people who work in public assistance offices or not, don’t raise genuine policy questions about welfare reform and neither did the staged witnesses brought to the Legislature by Representative Wittich.
And it’s worth mentioning that neither the Great Falls Triibune nor the Lee papers seem to have reported the other Wittich news from last week: that the defender of integrity and personal responsibility finally had a trial date set for his involvement with American Tradition Parternship and their meth house documents. Given his crusade against fraud, his brazen effort to violate the integrity of Montana’s election system seems worthy of a mention, no?