The Ohio House is scheduled to vote today on two Republican-backed bills aimed at cracking down on cheaters fraudulently receiving food stamps, Medicaid and other assistance.
Supporters say the legislation will reduce fraud, save tax dollars and ensure help goes only to those in need.
Critics argue they would punish poor people.
"Both bills are aimed at identifying and reducing fraud ... to protect those resources and services for those who truly need it," said Brad Miller, spokesman for House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville.
Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, said she supports efforts to crack down on fraud but argues that the administrative costs outweigh any potential benefit.
The state's own fiscal analysis on a bill to require photo ID cards to get food stamps appears to back her up with the following figures:
Cost of the new photo cards - $1 million to $2 million.
Annual operating cost - $1 million to $3 million.
Annual estimated savings - $0.
The bill's sponsor, Rep. Tim Schaffer, R-Lancaster, disputes Legislative Service Commission projections of no savings, saying that based on an earlier report on food stamp fraud by former President Barack Obama's administration, Ohio's program loses $26 million a year to cheating.
"The federal government pays half the administrative costs but even if we pay $1 million to potentially save $26 million isn't it worth it?" Schaffer asked.
Schaffer's House Bill 50 would require the addition of color photos on debit-like cards used by poor people to buy groceries through the federal food stamp program. He said he wants to keep food on the tables of poor families by keeping electronic benefit cards for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program out of the hands of drug dealers and crooks looking to turn them into cash.
An amendment to the bill also offsets cost by allowing the use of driver's license photos already available from the Ohio Department of Motor Vehicles.
Critics note that food stamp cards are issued for an entire household, not a single person, so a photo would not represent all authorized users of a card. Also, about a third of beneficiaries are elderly or disabled and legally allow a caregiver to buy their groceries.
The legislation includes exemptions for residents age 60 or older, those who are disabled, victims of domestic violence or residents who have religious objections to being photographed.
Under the measure, stores would not be required to block sales from those using someone else’s card. Instead, a phone number and website address would be included on the back of those cards and retailers asked to report suspicious transactions.
Critics point out that with automated and self-serve check-outs, cashiers often won't see pictures on food stamp cards. And even if they did, few may report suspected abuse.
The second bill, House Bill 119, would require state agencies to cross-check the names of millions of food stamp and Medicaid beneficiaries with records of lottery winners, immigration status, earned and unearned income, real estate, incarceration and other states’ benefit programs. The checks would be conducted four times a year.
"Right now we check once a year, but people's situations change and they don't" always report changes in income that affect their eligibility, said one of the bill's sponsors, Rep. Michael Henne, R-Clayton.
"We're not trying to take money away from anyone" entitled to receive it.
A fiscal analysis of the bill found "a minimal increase in administrative costs" and did not project any savings by eliminating fraud.
About 1.5 million Ohioans receive food stamps and more than 3 million are on Medicaid.