Florida’s new Public Assistance Fraud bill seeks to drastically heighten punitive measures for those who abuse Medicaid or food stamp programs.
Under the new bill, anyone guilty of committing more than $100,000 of fraud in a taxpayer-funded cash assistance program could be face up to 30 years in prison.
A 30-year prison term is also the sentence for seriously hurting a law officer.
Furthermore, wrongfully receiving or seeking public assistance equivalent to $20,000 can be met with a sentence of up to 15 years in prison.
“Individuals who defraud our system and our taxpayers must be held accountable for their actions,” said State Rep. Jimmie Smith, Republican, the bill's sponsor.
While Democrats and Republicans are notorious for disagreeing over the size and scope of public assistance programs, members of the Florida House Criminal Justice Subcommittee came to the unanimous agreement that the severity of punishments needed to be increased.
“This bill will ensure that the penalty fits the crime,” Smith said.
That said, the bill will come at a price to taxpayers, who will be the ones covering the costs incurred by these criminals’ extended stays in jail.
“It costs over $20,000 per inmate per year to incarcerate someone,” said Vikrant Reddy, a senior policy analyst for the Center of Effective Justice at the Texas Public Policy Foundation. “It seems very unlikely that when you run the cost-benefit analysis, it’s going to make a lot of sense to ratchet up the incarceration penalties for fraud.”
The bill also features a cash rewards program through which 10 percent of the recovered money could be awarded to anyone with original information regarding a violation of public assistance laws.
Officials are anticipating 75,500 annual tips and have noted that the bill calls for additional state employees, office space, equipment and contractor services.
The cash incentive, however, comes with problems of its own. Baylor Johnson, spokesman for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, said that this feature of the bill “fosters a culture of suspicion and paranoia.”
It could even, Johnson suggested, “lead to a new kind of fraud altogether where people report people out of animus or the hope of scoring reward money.”
Photo Source: WMKY