Over the past few years the idea that people who receive SNAP benefits or food stamps should be routinely drug-tested has remained hugely popular, despite the fact that even simply testing all applicants initially would cost far more in taxpayer dollars than it would ever save. Therein lays the dilemma facing any political group that attempts to either reform welfare programs or reduce fraud in the program.
Oregon’s state legislature is dealing with just this issue, forming a legislative work group in August to reduce the state’s rate of welfare fraud. A report issued by the Oregon state auditor found that lottery winners and prisoners were still receiving their benefits. According to The Oregonian one in three Oregon residents were utilizing programs for low-income residents such as Medicaid, food stamps, or Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
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A recent proposal has been levied, also reported by The Oregonian, which would put individual beneficiaries’ photos on the cards so that only those people could use them. The program would cost the state “at least $1.5 million in the first year and about $930,000 annually after that” and there is no guarantee that the program would even work. While it may reduce instances of fraud for deceased or incarcerated beneficiaries, Oregon law allows for people who receive single lump-sum payments—like winning the lottery—to continue drawing benefits. Also money recouped or saved will most likely be federal dollars, whereas the money for these fraud-prevention programs comes out of state coffers.
The problems inherent with the proposal are not solely financial. There are also privacy and discrimination issues. Rep. Carolyn Tomei told The Oregonian in August, “You can’t treat [Trail card users] any differently than somebody using a credit card.” One initiative that warned cardholders they would face scrutiny for ordering multiple replacement cards reduced requests by 19 percent at little cost to taxpayers. Still, there remains a fear that costly anti-fraud policies will be implemented because of public sentiment rather than fiscal practicality.