A Senate committee moved a bill Wednesday morning that would require the Wyoming Department of Family Services to more closely scrutinize applicants for assistance, conduct periodic reviews of eligibility, and allow the department to hire a third-party fraud investigator if necessary.

Senate File 73 “Welfare Fraud Prevention,” sponsored by Sen. Leland Christensen (R-Alta), will move to the Senate floor for second reading.

Welfare fraud is not a significant problem in Wyoming because the state’s management of assistance programs is fairly robust, Family Services senior administrator Brenda Lyttle told the Senate Labor, Health and Social Services Committee.

“We have prosecuted, I would say, eight cases in the last year for fraud big enough for us to take to prosecution,” Lyttle said.

The department saw 248 “referrals for investigation” in 2015, and authorized 120 claims later discovered to be fraudulent, director Steve Corsi told WyoFile. Twelve people were referred for prosecution of alleged fraud that totaled $276,741.66 in benefits.

There are approximately 450 families on the Wyoming POWER program and about 750 individuals. Many of those are grandparents raising their grandchildren, Lyttle said.

Committee chairman Sen. Charlie Scott (R-Casper) said Wyoming was about eight months ahead of federal welfare reform in the 1990s. A similar state program then served approximately 5,600 families, he guessed.

The Department of Family Services “did a marvelous job of going out and telling recipients, ‘look, you’re better off going out and getting a job and saving eligibility when you really need it,’” Scott said. “They said, ‘Gee, that makes a lot of sense,’ and they went out and went to work.”

Wyoming Department of Health officials sought assurances that the increased application and eligibility review requirements do not include the 100,000 or so people who take part in Medicaid and other health programs related to the department. The new requirements in SF 73 should be contained within the Department of Family Services, Scott said.

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Dustin Bleizeffer

Dustin Bleizeffer is a Report for America Corps member covering energy and climate at WyoFile. He has worked as a coal miner, an oilfield mechanic, and for 25 years as a statewide reporter and editor primarily...

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