The Ohio Auditor of State David Yost participated in a hearing of the US House Agriculture Committee on July 6th. As I wrote in a previous post, Yost presented his ‘evidence’ of ‘fraud’ from an audit his office conducted on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (aka Food Stamps) in Ohio. It was obvious Yost missed the real issue with the ‘fraud’ he found and he then used his appearance in DC to raise money for a future higher office campaign.
For his testimony at the House Committee on Agriculture hearing, which was titled: “Past, Present, and Future of SNAP: Understanding Error Rates and Fraud“, David Yost wrote:
The main goal of the audit was not to find cases of fraud, but to search for structural weaknesses in the program that heighten risk. Our findings lead me to conclude that there are likely millions of dollars in fraud in Ohio’s $2.5 billion program.
The problems we found will not resolve the federal deficit, but fraud and poor management undermine public support for the program.
Mr. Chairman, I am grateful that this committee is undertaking study and reform. Our report makes some suggestions, and you will hear others. But, I would suggest an overarching principle for reform: Block-granting this program to the states.
While we can identify the problems, the solutions are often less obvious. The only iron rule in government, it seems, is the Law of Unintended Consequences. When the federal government makes a change and there are unintended consequences, we all feel the pain if a reform fails. If the states develop their own management systems, failures will be limited to that state, and the successes and innovations will be there for others to copy.
I do not believe that fraud is rampant in Ohio, but it does exist, and it is significant.
If you have time watch the video of the full hearing to get the full context. I also put together an edited version showing mostly Yost’s time.
Yost restated in his testimony the data points mentioned in my previous post. The transaction patterns, dead people getting benefits, spending out of state, and excessive card balances do suggest something needs to be looked at. However, Yost proves he didn’t check with the USDA or doesn’t know how SNAP works.
Jessica Shahin, SNAP Associate Administrator, Food & Nutrition Service, USDA noted that there are tools available to all the states to flag issues like those pointed out by David Yost but not all the states use them.
One example Yost mentioned in answering a member’s question to cut down on trafficking of benefits was adding the recipient photo to the EBT card. Shahin explained in a response that was an option available to the states.
Based on the entirety of the hearing it looks more like the “structural weaknesses in the program that heighten risk” is actually a state administration issue and NOT a problem with the program itself.
It looks like the state is failing to look or take action about any red flags seen. Yost admitted that when cases are referred to the counties for investigation the counties don’t have the resources to work on it. The cases are low priority.
One solution Yost suggested in his written testimony and mentioned again while answering a member’s question was turning SNAP into a Block Grant program where the state is given X dollars to run a program independent of most federal rules. Supporters of block grants think it allows state to tailor programs based on how it would help the particular state.
Block Grants are bad public policy for social safety net programs:
Over the summer, Mr. Germanis published a startling confession. Writing “as a citizen and in my capacity as a conservative welfare expert,” he apologized for whatever role he may have had in the welfare reform enacted in 1996.
“To the extent that anything I ever wrote contributed to the creation of TANF or any block grant, I am sorry,” he wrote. “As I hope to demonstrate in this paper, a block grant for a safety net program is bad public policy.”
And he does. Among the easier charges to make against the Needy Families block grant is that it was not meant to adjust for inflation. It was $16.5 billion two decades ago; it is $16.5 billion today. According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, it has lost more than a third of its buying power.
What’s more, states were given both incentives and tools to redeploy the money to other priorities. Notably, they could get around the requirement to meet job participation benchmarks simply by reducing the caseloads of beneficiaries — almost a direct instruction to bump people off.
Now why would David Yost support Block Grants, which don’t actually work for social programs, and would give more control to a state that isn’t administrating the program properly in the first place???
It’s not about being efficient it’s about the politics.
Another take away from Yost’s testimony is he believes there is fraud going on. He really wanted to say ‘if it looks like fraud then it probably is fraud‘ but stopped short because that isn’t a legal phrase that would hold up in court and the former prosecutor knows it.
Rep. Marcia Fudge (OH-11) grilled Yost about saying it was fraud without having any actual proof and Yost grimaced because he knew he couldn’t just say it was even though he did in his written and spoken testimony. (yes it makes my head hurt too)
Yost knows that saying “fraud” plays well to his supporters and those who want to punish poor people for being poor.
He is looking toward a higher office and his appearance at the hearing was a way to make a name for himself.
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost is using his recent report of vulnerabilities and possible fraud in Ohio’s food stamp system to raise money for his future political aspirations.
“Can you help me keep getting our side of the story out with a donation of $24 or $50 today?” the Republican auditor asked in campaign e-mail solicitation sent out today.
Yost also blasted U.S. Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-Cleveland, who sharply questioned him during a Congressional hearing last week about whether the auditor had uncovered real fraud and why he focused on food stamps instead of other federal programs.
“I went to Washington this week to tell Congress about what we found – and got shellacked by a leading Democrat for daring to even look at the program,” Yost wrote. Yost’s official state website is now dominated by a huge picture of him testifying to Congress.
So no, David Yost isn’t about fixing a weak state administration of a needed federal program, he is about creating political theater by using conservative buzzwords like “fraud” and “Block Grant” to set himself up for higher office.
If he can’t see the real internal state issue at work here then how will he do it if he is Attorney General?
Also published on Medium.