Friday, November 18, 2011

Senate Bill 5327 and the Hop Thanh

So, the obvious rebuttal to my last posting might be something relating to there being laws about fraud or some kind of enforcement or regulation, etc.

Let me tell you a bit about SB 5327 that was passed this year in Washington State. If you want to read all about it you can go to the info on the state legislature website, but generally it limits use of Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards at places deemed to be reasonable exclusions, such as businesses specializing in adult entertainment, gambling, and the like. Sounds like the legislature is really looking out for the taxpayers, right? Well, what they don't publicize is that the state employees who suggested this to the legislature also suggested they limit use of EBT cards at ATMs, because if a person can't use their EBT card like a debit or credit card to pay for their tab at the strip club the way they can at the grocery store, but they can use the ATM at the door to get cash... well, do you see where that's going? But the legislature didn't bother with that part. So, if you're a legislator who wants to stop people from using government benefits funded by your taxpaying constituents for illegal activity, well, you just left a loophole big enough for everyone to walk right through. If, on the other hand, you're a legislator who wants to make it look like you're putting in place sound anti-fraud policies, while effectively doing very little to offend the persons committing the fraud you are supposedly fighting, then you have succeeded quite nicely.

Now, I recognize that some people reading this who identify themselves as "compassionate liberals" and classify those other kind of people who point out opportunities to commit welfare fraud as "heartless conservatives bent on the destruction of all that is good" assume that people who carry around EBT cards are in desperate need and use their benefits for essentials that aren't covered by food stamps like toothpaste. To these people, I apologize for the writers of the memos about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, and the Tooth Fairy; apparently, they forgot to send you this one: not all those who are referred to by politicians as "our most vulnerable citizens" are as honorably needy as you think... Sure, there are victims of abuse who need support, there are victims of the recession who need some help getting back on their feet and making ends meet, there are people with developmental disabilities, children in foster care, people with substance abuse problems, and children of parents with substance abuse problems. I believe there are a lot more people in such circumstances now than there have been at any other time, as least so far in my lifetime. But, to pretend that fraud doesn't happen, or that it doesn't happen enough to be concerned with... well that is just plain stupid.

I participated in a conference call a few weeks ago that was with regard to the new Office of Fraud and Accountability, which isn't really new, it just has a new name and a new boss. I'm guessing their purpose is fairly obvious. I am not sure how detailed I can be in releasing information that was given to us, but just to be safe I won't be too specific and just say this: they have backlogs in fraud cases numbering in the thousands, some dating back to a year ago, and the number of employees to work these cases is in the teens. In the last couple years this particular group of employees has been cut by more than 80%. According to management they are hoping to increase their abilities through utilization of better computer techniques for detecting patterns of fraud, but it still seems to me that it might be helpful to have a few more employees dedicated to this function.

Not that there haven't been some successes in limiting fraud. There was a flurry of excitement when one of my coworkers saw a story in the newspaper about federal raids that shut down businesses participating in welfare fraud. Unfortunately, as this story and follow-up stories acknowledge, the individuals trading in their food benefits for cash to buy drugs and other illegal items will probably just go somewhere else. The story said that in one year alone the two stores that were shut down cashed out $2 million in food benefits at 50 cents on the dollar.

If you're like me, your next question is, what happened to all the people who illegally traded in all those benefits? Well, generally, probably nothing. However, the fraud investigator who works at my office was exultantly telling anyone who would listen about a big break with one individual. Let us say, for example, that this client used most of their benefits in the area where they lived, but then on one occasion happened to make a purchase using their card at one of the stores that was raided. Let us also suppose that this store was hours away from their home and that their purchase was a surprisingly round number. It could be that this person would deny that they have ever used benefits illegally. They may, if pressed, admit that they have used benefits illegally in ways other than cashing them out at this particular store, but of course they have good reasons and didn't know it wasn't allowed and won't do it again. Then perhaps this person was told that the store was under surveillance, and asked what might be seen on that video? At which point, the individual's demeanor may have changed. They may have also been presented with an internet printout of a social networking site where the individual advertised sale of their benefits card. At this point, the person may or may not have agreed to sign a statement admitting their guilt in exchange for having their food benefits denied for 1 year. Wow! What a fabulous success it would be if something like that really happened. Stopping crime dead in its tracks...

Thursday, November 17, 2011

20.5 million dollars... just a drop in the bucket...

As a State Employee, I try to pay a little bit of attention to the ongoing state budget issues. As are most government agencies, companies, and individuals, the State of Washington is struggling financially and is trying to figure out how to make ends meet. Here is a link to the Office of Financial Management's Budget Reduction Alternatives.

Two of the many proposed cuts are the State's programs that provide welfare and food stamp benefits to people who do not qualify for the federal versions of the same programs "due to lack of documentation of citizenship". It is estimated that elimination of these two programs would save the state $20.5 million dollars during one biennial budget cycle. Also, it should be noted that adult persons who do not have documentation of citizenship can still receive benefits on behalf of minors in their household who are citizens.

So, take for example an undocumented single mom with 3 documented children who works 20 hours a week at minimum wage... in Washington the minimum wage is $8.67 per hour, so she makes an average of $751.40 per month gross. Not enough to raise 3 kids, right? Especially if your rent is, say, $800/month. Well, with that income and rent you could get $668 in food stamps for 4 people, and if you reduce due to the rule change to the amount for just the three kids it would be $526. (If you want you can try out the online calculator here). Technically, of course, if the mom or anyone else other than those 3 children eats any of the food she buys with that $526 she is breaking the law, but that's just a technicality, right? Also, any children in public school would automatically be enrolled in the school lunch program. Furthermore, there isn't an online calculator, but with income that low and that many kids I bet you she qualifies to get cash benefits for her kids too. And bundled with cash benefits is medical coverage for the kids, plus eligibility for cash assistance opens the door to a variety of other programs including things like subsidized childcare while she is working, Section 8 housing, even a new program that provides recipients of state benefits with free cell phones and 250 free minutes per month through Assurance Wireless.

Also, perhaps you should consider that this scenario assumes that our single mom has voluntarily provided information about her job and proof of her income. If she has no social security number there may be no way to trace her income otherwise, and if she chooses not to report her income her benefits would be calculated assuming a zero income. (If you can't guess, that means they go up...) This scenario also assumes that she has truthfully declared her living situation and that she is a single mom. If she lives in a home owned by relatives or friends and pays no rent, but they write a statement saying that she does her benefit is increased to adjust for her supposed housing costs. You see, the common definition of "homeless" here at the "welfare office" is not that you actually sleep on the sidewalk at night, or under a bridge, or in a tent city, but rather that your name is not on the lease or the deed to the place where you live.* It also helps if you use a PO box and don't give the USPS your home address. Furthermore, if the father of her children also has no social security number, it may be impossible to prove that he is or ever has been in this country, let alone that he lives with her and their children, or that he works under the table framing houses, as a painter, or as a farm worker in Yakima where the going rate for cherry pickers was $15/hour this summer... And, of course, people who work under the table, whether they are citizens of our country or not, don't pay taxes on any of the money they are earning, which means they aren't "paying into the pot" from which government benefits are funded.

As a disclaimer, I'm not racist, nor to I have a grudge against immigrants. What I do find upsetting is people who cheat the system and commit fraud. That goes for people of all races, nationalities, etc. But, it does make it a bit easier to stay "under the radar" and "off the books" when you were never "on the books" to begin with...

You may think that the types of fraud that I have hinted at above are a bit far-fetched, but in the course of my job I see examples of these kinds of fraud many times a day. I am not even an employee of the Community Services Division which actually administers these programs. I work for a separate division, but there is some overlap in our clientele and our programs affect each other enough that clients tell us a completely different story, and we have to figure out how to deal with it...

* I was told a few weeks ago by a fellow state employee that over the multiple decades she has been a government employee, she only ever had one client who claimed to be homeless that she believed actually fit the traditional street/bridge/tent definition of homelessness. On the flipside, I have seen people walk into the state office where I work and apply for benefits, and then drive off in a Mercedes or a Hummer. Of course, for some benefits only reported income is a factor, not assets like a vehicle, or, say $20.5 million dollars in a retirement account...


Ok, so as far as song references go, I think there are more cha's, but, whatever...

So, those of you who knew me in college may know that a few of my friends sometimes lovingly referred to me as a dirty socialist. Not because I really believe that socialism is a feasible economic system, but because I was a sociology major and less conservative than your average LDS student at BYU living in Provo.

In an almost humorous contrast to this, I am now one of the most conservative people around... Seattle, that is.

What happened in the intervening years to produce this change? I spent a year in law school, during which I realized that, being a person who did not particularly want to be an attorney, a Juris Doctorate is not a particularly cost-effective post-graduate educational option. Having realized this, I got a job in the nearest large city, which happened to be Seattle. As many a person with a sort-of-fancy paper that says Bachelor of Science in Sociology on it, as well as some other stuff, displayed in a cheap frame I got at the big, bad Wal-Mart on a bookshelf I got at Big Lots... I got a job working for the government. I also met a fantastic man who thinks I'm irresistibly attractive and likes to buy me things. He is a police officer. And together, we are a crime-fighting duo... wait, ok, maybe not... He fights crime, I just fight non-payment of child support, but that's kind of like crime too...

So, here's the deal... For those of you out there who consider yourself to be "liberal", or something similar in terms of political labels, and who do so because you feel that it is more humane or compassionate than ideologies that are referred to as "conservative" or "libertarian": I commend you for your desire to be a compassionate person, but apparently you know little of the realities of government social programs. I see these realities on a daily basis, and it is stunning how little information the general public has and ridiculous the way media portrayals twist and deform the truth. Thus, I hope to use this forum to share with you some bits of information and truth that you may not have been aware of...

Wow! A lot can change in 2 years, huh?

This is to announce that after a surprisingly long hiatus, I plan to return to blogging. Not because I am depressed and annoyed because of some silly man, as has often been the case in the past, (because I have an awesome husband-to-be who consistently wins the best-boyfriend award among my female friends), but because I am annoyed with other things! Are you excited? You should be...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

August Fools Day

From now on I am declaring August 1st, August Fools Day. Cuz something happened to me this morning that cannot be described as anything other than the Universe dropping the punchline on the funniest joke ever... I have a big mess to clean up and a lot of work to do, but I'm hoping it will work out to be something good... I really hope I don't mess this up... AAHH!!

Saturday, June 13, 2009


new look for the blog.

so, i wrote at least once a month for 23 months, then ditched out for almost 6...

in case you were wondering the last 6 months of my life have been... well... good, but confusing and busy and tiring, and highly emotional... pretty much normal? haha. so much was going on and the farther behind i got the more difficult i realized it would be to catch up... frankly, i regret not having captured my feelings during that time... in part i wish i could go back & give a recap, but somehow it isn't the same when you aren't right in the moment...


the last 6 months of my life seem like a dream... and now i've woken up and the real world is so much different than i remember it being. i made the mistake, that we all too often do, of building my world around a possible eventuality, and now that it is no longer a possibility... well... now what? i'm treading water, just trying to keep my head up... and surprisingly enough the minutes turn to hours and then days and little by little life goes on, though i have no idea where it's taking me... i just wish it didn't feel like such a solitary journey...

Monday, December 8, 2008

How BYU are you? *F*

How BYU are you?

77 questions.

[X] You have been kissed at lease once
[ ] Your first kiss was on campus
[X] You've had a boyfriend/girlfriend
[ ] You lived in the dorms your freshman year
[X] You went to Homecoming or Preference
[X] You hiked the Y
[ ] You've taken a social dance class
[X] You regularly attended FHE for at least a semester
[X] You've participated in Choose to Give
[X] You've been to Liberty Square for a party at least once
[X] You've driven around south of campus for at least 20 minutes trying to find a parking spot
[X] You know the cougar fight song
[X] You've crossed the crosswalk without using the flags or biked through a red light
[X] You've been to Friday Night Live
[X] You've performed or witnessed an act that made it onto Police Beat
[ ] You've been on a "date" to the bell tower or duck pond
[X] You've been to the Bean Museum for FHE
[X] You've been to Divine Comedy
[X] You've been to International Cinema
[ ] You are engaged
[ ] You are married
[ ] the temple
[ ] You were previously engaged/married
[ ] You have kids or are expecting kids
[X] Your birth parents are still married
[X] the temple
[X] You have at least three siblings
[X] You've taken a marriage prep or relations class
[X] You've taken at least one religion class that is not based on the scriptures
[X] You have slept on a couch in a restroom
[X] You have been to the BYU Creamery
[X] You have been in one of the BYU choirs
[X] You've been on a date to Fat Cats
[ ] You have read Twilight
[ ] 2
[ ] 3
[ ] 4
[ ] ...seen the movie
[ ] ...more than once
[ ] You've waited in line at the Bookstore for the Harry Potter or Twilight book premiere
[X] You have seen The Singles Ward or Sons of Provo
[ ] You have walked out of a movie you found morally reprehensible
[X] You know where the "chastity line" is
[ ] You can finish the phrase "Nothing good happens after ______"
[ ] You read the Daily Universe at least 3x a week
[ ] ...and it's the only newspaper you read
[X] You've personally known someone who was reported to the Honor Code Office
[ ] You've participated in or watched a Mr. BYU contest
[ ] You've received personal revelation that he/she is "the one" (or been told this)
[ ] ...and told him/her about your revelation (or been told this)
[ ] ...and then they rejected you (or rejected them)
[X] You've been to the Nickelcade
[X] You've been to Classic Skating
[X] You've ignored your parents' phone calls for at least 3 days
[ ] ...and then they called the University Police
[ ] You've been pulled over by the University Police
[X] You watch The Office religiously
[ ] You mostly wear jeans and t-shirts or plain fitted shirts
[X] You own at least 3 things from American Eagle or Hollister
[X] Your sacrament meeting is a fashion show/scam session
[ ] You've been on a date to the Provo River
You've kissed in a...
[ ] ...campus parking lot
[ ] ...Provo Canyon or Squaw Peak
[ ] ...on temple grounds
[X] ...on a couch as soon as your roommates left the room
[X] You think UVU is not a real university
[ ] You hate U of U with a passion

FOR GIRLS (don't answer if you're a guy)
[X] You own knee-length shorts
[X] You regularly wear camisoles/undershirts for modesty reasons
[ ] You are a MFHD, RMYL, Elementary Education, or Exercise Science Major
[X] Your major crush ended up dating a MFHD, RMYL, Elementary Education, or Exercise Science major
[ ] You have had at least one roommate who is in hair or dental school
[ ] You own The Italian Job or The Princess Bride
[X] You wear makeup at least 3x a week
[X] You do something with your hair (other than brush it/ponytail) at least 3x a week
[ ] You went or plan on going on a mission
[ ] ...because you couldn't get married

FOR GUYS (don't answer if you're a girl)
[_] You shave every (or almost every) morning
[_] You know when your hair is "too long"
[_] You know what the "divide by 2 and add 7" dating rule is
[_] ...and you follow it
[_] You've dated freshmen girls as a RM
[_] ...when you already knew better
[_] You've used the phrase "On my mission..." to a girl
[_] At least 3 girls have baked cookies or meals for you
[_] You went or plan on going on a mission
[_] ...because you wanted to get married


A: 68-77
B: 60-67
C: 53-66
D: 45-52
F: 44 or below.

**BAM!** I fail at being "BYU". And I know a couple guys who will back me up on that. ;) At least I still managed to get my degree.

thanks jessica...