Friday, May 14, 2010

How Much Should We Lose?

Today, we have the story of an Oshkosh Day Care Center under investigation by the State Department of Children and Family Services for defrauding the Wisconsin Shares Program. Wisconsin shares subsidizes day care services for low-income families--ostensibly so they can keep a job and support the family. Unfortunately, the program has become one of the biggest sources of fraud in state history.

The Oshkosh day care center is just one of 176 providers under investigation by the state for fradulent claims. Earlier this year, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel did an extensive report on the Wisconsin Shares program and found widespread accounting problems

• Counties accept almost anything as proof of employment for parents seeking child-care assistance. Notes from employers, phone conversations, checks stubs - all of which are easily fabricated - serve as sufficient proof. As a result payments are sometimes approved based on bogus jobs.

• Caseworkers sign off on child-care arrangements that defy the imagination. In one instance, child-care funding was approved for 85 hours a week even when children were in school all day. If the statements were to be believed, the children would almost never be home. In another case, a woman was granted child-care assistance to work 236 of 238 days, including the day she gave birth to her seventh child.

• Regulators seldom revoke licenses for fraud and are slow to act even when they have strong evidence. In at least two cases, government officials suspected that providers were falsifying documents for three years before finally moving to shut down the child-care operations. Prosecutors have filed only one child-care fraud case in the past five years.

In the age of a $2.7 billion dollar state budget deficit, we hear all the time how there is "nothing left to cut" down in Madison. Yet legislators still found ways to increase spending for Wisconsin Shares by 28-percent over the last five years. Even if it costs us the amount that we are losing to fraud in that program just to make sure we stopped losing money to fraud--wouldn't it be worthwhile--if for no other reason than assure taxpayers that their money is actually being used the way we are told it is being used?

And if the state can't keep an eye on expenditures for day care centers--how are they properly going to police the use of the ever-growing BadgerCare programs? Private insurers spend millions to investigate fraud. How vigilant do you think the state is being in making sure all of the claims are legit?

Eventually we have to ask ourselves: How much are we willing to lose to "help" others?

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