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Guest Opinion: It's time to eliminate fraud and waste in state programs

One of the most important duties I have as state representative is to ensure that your tax dollars are being spent wisely, efficiently, and in a way that provides transparency for taxpayers.

A huge part of that involves working to root out waste, fraud, and abuse in our public programs. While it can be difficult to pinpoint instances of fraud within public programs, we are fortunate to have dedicated public servants at the nonpartisan Office of the Legislative Auditor (OLA) that take the time to investigate and audit agencies to ensure program integrity.

In just the last few years, we have seen report after report from the OLA identifying hundreds of millions, if not close to a billion dollars, of fraud from Medical Assistance, Minnesota's Childcare Assistance Program (CCAP), and other public programs.

Just last month, they released a much-anticipated report on fraud within the state's CCAP program. The report was in response to allegations made by a former employee at the Department of Human Services that alleged over $100 million in fraud was taking place in CCAP.

While the OLA could not substantiate the $100 million claim, they do believe that the extent of fraud in the program is larger than the $5-$6 million in restitution payments ordered in prosecuted cases thus far.

The report went on to say that CCAP fraud investigators at the Department of Human Services generally agree that there is a substantial amount of fraud in the CCAP program.

Like many of you, I was outraged by the findings in the report. It's clear that Minnesota has a real and substantial problem with fraud in our public programs.

This week, I was proud to sign onto a package of proposals that seek to combat fraud within CCAP. The proposal includes nearly 50 changes to state law—with more than a dozen ideas taken from bills introduced by Democrats.

The comprehensive approach addresses fraud by increasing consequences for committing fraud, enhancing provider controls to improve program integrity on the front end, giving investigators and prosecutors additional tools to find and prosecute fraud, making reforms to eligibility across CCAP and other public programs, and improving oversight by making the Office of Inspector General an independent entity within the Department of Human Services.

Sadly, House Democrats have heard just three bills on this topic, and have refused calls to hold a hearing on the OLA's report. It's time for Democrats to show the public they are taking this issue seriously, and pass meaningful reforms that will eliminate fraud and ensure Minnesotans' hard-earned tax dollars are being respected.

I am especially discouraged by Governor Walz and Democrats' proposals for billions in additional taxes on Minnesotans at a time when the state has a billion dollar budget surplus and hundreds of millions of dollars in fraud within our public programs.

Simply put, they should drop their talk of raising taxes until we get this fraud problem under control. Minnesota taxpayers deserve better.

I remain committed to working to return integrity to our public programs and to protect your tax dollars. It's time for Democrats take this issue seriously and work with Republicans to eliminate fraud and waste.

Heintzeman, R-Nisswa, represents District 10A in the Minnesota House of Representatives