GREENVILLE — U.S. Representative Warren Davidson (R-Troy) was in Greenville Tuesday to talk welfare reform with representatives of Darke County Job & Family Services (JFS).
Davidson came not only to learn what the county is doing on the local level, but also to promote his Welfare Benefit Reform and Alignment Commission (BRAC) Act, introduced in Congress in March.
If enacted, BRAC will create a bipartisan, eight-member commission tasked with formulating solutions to streamline more than 90 federal welfare programs.
BRAC also creates a fast-track voting procedure for quick action in the House of Representatives and Senate to ensure that a lack of political will within doesn’t thwart the important goals this commission is designed to help solve.
“There are 92 federal programs, which are means-tested programs — not Social Security, not Medicare — things like food stamps, housing programs, like Medicaid, which we spend more than $850 billion a year on, which is more than defense,” said Davidson. “Some of them work better than others, so how do they manage that? Each of them have rules and regulations and we wanted to talk to them about that.”
“[BRAC] doesn’t cut funding,” Davidson explained. “The proposal leaves the funding at the same level, but the reality is, because they’re means-tested, if the programs were more effective, we would end up spending less. We’re not cutting funding, we’re just reforming the programs, so instead of 92, we take the ones that are most effective in helping people where they can clear that hurdle.”
Darke County JFS Director Gracie Overholser said the county currently administers 17 food stamp programs, providing approximately $4.5 million in benefits to county residents in 2016 alone. The biggest problem, as she sees it, is too many programs with too many regulations.
“We’d like to see a smaller number of programs offered,” she said. “In an ideal world, we would have one.”
Another method JFS uses to increase efficiency and save taxpayers money is through its fraud prevention program, spearheaded by JFS Supervisor Sarah Brubaker and Darke County Sheriff’s Office Detective Rachael Kuzmicki.
The fraud program, which features an anonymous hotline through which people can report welfare fraud, has saved taxpayers more than $1.1 million in Darke County alone.
Kuzmicki said she follows up on every tip received, and with few exceptions, the majority of the fraud being perpetrated is due to substance abuse, particularly heroin and methamphetamine users.
“The majority of what I handle is all heroin related,” said Kuzmicki. “They’re trading that EBT (Electronic Benefits Transfer) card as currency for heroin.”
The trading of EBT benefits, a crime itself, is also related to other offenses, she said.
“They’re not only drug addicted, but they’re breaking into homes, they’re burglars, they’re getting into domestics with their family members, they’re child abusers — it’s all interconnected, and it all surrounds around food stamps,”Kuzmicki added.
Darke County is also hoping to participate in a state pilot program in which those receiving benefits will be drug tested. However, Overholser said the program will not being used to punish addicts but to help provide treatment.
Streamlining the number of programs as Davidson seeks to do would not necessarily mean fewer workers at JFS.
“The number of employees would be needed because we would be working more intensely with the individuals on an individual basis rather than a ‘black and white, eligible, not eligible’ business,” said Brubaker.
Darke County Commissioner Mike Stegall commended the employees of JFS for its discussions with Rep. Davidson as well as the job they do each day.
“I think he was very impressed with what these ladies are doing out here,” he said. “We’re very proud of what they’re doing, proud of what’s going on in Darke County. Washington and Columbus have to realize that one size does not fit all. We have hired very good people here — let’s let them do their job.”
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