The state legislature gave final approval to the Public Benefit Integrity, which requires state agencies to annually report progress to lawmakers on eliminating fraud, waste and abuse last week.

The state Senate concurred with amendments adopted in the state House of Representative for Senate Bill 259, sponsored by Sen. Sharon Hewitt, R-Slidell, to establish the Public Benefit Integrity Law.

The legislation, which now heads to Gov. John Bel Edwards, requires the departments of Children and Family Services, Education, Health and the Louisiana Workforce Commission to report to the legislature annually regarding policies and processes for identifying and eliminating fraud, waste and abuse of certain government-funded programs.

The bill specifically targets Medicaid, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, Family Independence Temporary Assistance, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program for Women, Infants and Children, unemployment compensation and the Child Care Assistance Program.

Hewitt said during committee hearings the legislation is designed to give lawmakers more information on how the departments combat fraud, waste and abuse "so that we can basically get a little more educated about how things are working and see if there’s things we can do legislatively that would help them."

SB 259 tasks the departments with producing an annual report by Feb. 15, starting in 2023, with information on total dollar amount and percentage of budget allocated to program integrity and elimination of fraud, waste and abuse. The departments would be required to describe current policies and practices, as well as information about benefits improperly received, efforts to eliminate those deemed ineligible and policies regarding verification of federal or state work requirements.

"This is really just seeking some information … because what we all want is for the dollars to go toward the people to which they were intended to go to," Hewitt told the House and Governmental Affairs Committee on May 11. "When we’re losing money due to fraud, waste or abuse, then it’s not going to those programs it’s supposed to, so it could be there are barriers we’re unaware of that we could help fix if we just understood it a little bit better. So this is just the first step in that process.”

Amendments adopted on the House floor last week included the addition of several items for reporting: the number of applications received, the percentage of applications denied and the percentage of applications denied for procedural reasons.

The amendments also added reporting on monthly call center performance metrics, the average caseload per caseworker and a detailed description of the program’s administrative appeals process for clients.

The amendments stemmed from concerns by Rep. Royce Duplessis, D-New Orleans, that the legislation needed a more "holistic approach," according to Rep. Dodie Horton, R-Haughton, who presented the bill on the House floor.

SB 259 was supported by the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and several individuals in the House committee hearing, while the Louisiana Budget Project testified in opposition.

The bill cleared the Senate with a vote of 32-0 in mid-April, and passed the House with a vote of 97-0 on May 25. The Senate concurred with the House amendments on Tuesday with a vote of 34-0.

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