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Guest columnist: Bills aim to protect public benefits from misuse and theft
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A necessary function of government is to care for those less fortunate. Along with this duty comes the task of ensuring that programs designed to help our citizens in need are utilized in their intended manner.

Wisconsin has been a leader in welfare reform starting in the 1990s when Gov. Tommy Thompson led the charge to replace dependence on government with the tools to succeed. Since then, Wisconsin has continued to pave the way in caring for our people in need while using taxpayer dollars wisely. Recently, however, it has become clear that several of our public benefit programs (FoodShare and Unemployment Insurance) are in need of some basic updates to ensure that only individuals who need tax-payer assistance are receiving them.

The FoodShare program helps people with limited means buy the food they need. It's a resource for Wisconsinites of all ages who are living on a small or fixed income, have lost their job, retired or are disabled. Wisconsin's Unemployment Insurance (UI) program was created to provide a temporary source of income, financed by employers, for workers who were laid off from their jobs. In addition, the program was implemented to further broaden societal goals, which included establishing a policy designed to encourage stable employment practices and a mechanism to provide an economic stimulus during economic downturns.

Unfortunately, over time, some individuals have found ways to take advantage of these public benefit programs, and are essentially stealing from taxpayers and other public benefit recipients. According to a Milwaukee Journal Sentinel report entitled "Fraud taints FoodShare program," 2,000 FoodShare recipients reported losing their cards six or more times just in 2010. Sixty people had cards replaced 12 or more times. Furthermore, a 2014 audit by the Legislative Audit Bureau, discovered 67,000 fraudulent payments and found $51.4 million in Unemployment Insurance overpayments in the past two fiscal years. While we all know mistakes can happen, intentionally stealing from the state and taxpayers should not be tolerated.

That's why I was proud to cast my vote in support of a package of bills that aim to protect public benefits from misuse and theft. The four proposals include measures to expunge unused FoodShare benefits after one year, reduce the number of FoodShare replacement cards, place a photo on FoodShare cards, and crack down on intentional fraud of unemployment benefits. These are common-sense precautions that will maintain the integrity and sustainability of these important programs.

My responsibility as your representative is to use your taxpayer dollars wisely. We cannot allow taxpayer dollars to be directed to someone who is intentionally scamming the system. Thanks to the Assembly's work on preserving the integrity of Wisconsin's safety-net programs, you can rest assured that your tax dollars are being spent on individuals who won't take advantage of them. Reforming welfare so it works for those who truly need it is a Wisconsin tradition that I am honored to continue.

- Rep. Todd Novak represents the 51st Assembly District. He can be reached at 608.266.7502 or email