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Welfare Integrity Now for Children and Families Act of 2011

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. DOGGETT. I yield myself such time as I may consume.

Madam Speaker, I'm against fraud. I think everyone here is against it. I'm for what's in this bill. That's why I voted for it back in December, and I'll vote for it next month, too, if that will make for more cooperation here in the House. I think, in a way, this is this election year's ``welfare Cadillac.'' And I was against welfare Cadillacs, if there ever were any of those, too.

This year, we have the ``strip club loophole'' that has been defined as a political term to suggest that we have a lot of problems with poor people abusing their benefits. And to the extent that any poor person abuses even a dollar of these benefits and keeps those benefits out of the mouths of hungry children, providing the clothes those kids need to go to school, I'm against that, and I plan to vote against it today.

I favor comprehensive legislation against fraud in public assistance. It concerns me when a pharmaceutical company ends up having to settle for $158 million in my home State of Texas because they allegedly lied about drug safety and bribed officials. It concerns me when a pharmaceutical company in the State of Texas has an $84 million Medicaid fraud case brought against it. I think we need to be concerned about fraud in all of its aspects.

I'd feel better about this bill, however--because I think repassing it will accomplish practically nothing, I'd feel much better about this legislative effort if there were just an ounce of the concern that is voiced about the very few people who abuse these benefits, if the same level of concern were expressed about the many who are there who are counting on the safety net, as flawed and frayed as it is, who were concerned about them and their families and their struggle to share in the American Dream and were doing something to get that approved.

Yes, we approved this piece of legislation as part of a broader extension of the Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program in December. And why hasn't that become law?

It is separate legislation pending in the Senate. It is also part of the broader legislation extending the provisions on unemployment, on payroll tax relief. It ought to become law because we need to be concerned about those families that are playing by the rules as well as the very few who are not playing by the rules.

Now, the gentleman has said that in some States action has already been taken--California, notably--to deal with the few who might be cashing their benefits at a casino or a liquor store or whatever. Texas, my home State, was cited as one of those States that has already taken action. I think that's great. There's not anything to keep the States from taking action on this already, if this is a serious problem.

Now, some of them have not acted, not because of a lack of concern about fraud but because the mechanics of correcting these electronic benefit cards may actually be more expensive than the cost that is being experienced by the small number of people that might abuse the card.

You take Arizona, for example. Governor Brewer has plenty of time to shake her finger in the face of the President of the United States, to support legislation to discriminate against Hispanic families, who have been in that State for longer than she and her family have been in the State. If she thinks this is a serious problem, why doesn't she act at the State level, as Texas and California and some other States have done, to address this problem?

I would submit, while I don't object to this legislation in and of itself, that the bigger problem that we face is that the number of poor American families has surged over the last 4 years, up 27 percent. Ten million people are below what is officially agreed on as being the poverty line. And this Temporary Assistance to Needy Families program provides a few of those families a little bit of assistance, to have a chance to turn their lives around until they can find longer term employment to provide for their families.

How much money are we talking about that might be abused or wasted at one of these facilities, which might just happen to be the maintenance crew at the casino that use their benefits there. Or it might just happen to be the only store convenient in a poor neighborhood is one that's mostly selling alcoholic beverages, that they choose to do that. How much might they be abusing?

Let me tell you in my home State of Texas the median benefit for a single parent with two children is $244 for an entire month to take care of those two children, 16 percent of the poverty level.

I want to be concerned, yes, about a dollar that is wasted. These are hard-earned tax dollars that go into these programs. We need to be concerned about every cent of abuse. But we also need to be concerned about the many who stand to benefit, who stand to have hope taken away if they don't see these benefits extended.

My concern about that is not merely academic because of what happened last year, the bipartisan agreement that had extended through many years called the supplemental program, which was really a survival program for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families in poorer States like Texas. The Republicans chose to discontinue that program even though it had enjoyed bipartisan support and had received support letters from a number of Republican officials in our area. They chose to not continue that, and that has severely weakened the safety net in our State. That's not being continued.

Whether they intend to abandon the entire Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program or cut it back substantially, it's hard to tell, given the fact that they're going only with the very modest provisions of this bill and not pushing to provide assistance to all of those who need that help.

I reserve the balance of my time.


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