Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Senate Bill 9: Requiring Identification Slows Valid Claims Without Identifying Fraud

Senate Bill 9 (SB 9) is back. The bill, aimed at preventing fraudulent applications for public benefits (including unemployment compensation) would require applicants to show identification when applying. The problem? While there is little to no evidence of such fraud, there is much evidence that SB 9 would slow benefits processing and prevent US citizens from receiving the benefits they have earned.

One of the biggest problems with SB 9 is a problem of logistics. Pennsylvania, like the rest of the country, is facing high unemployment rates, currently reaching 8.1% (see yesterday’s post for a pictorial representation).

In order to keep up with the increased rate of unemployment compensation requests, the state has bypassed its hiring freeze to bring on more workers to take phone calls. Unemployed workers can also apply online, but what they can’t do is apply in person – which is generally required when providing identification. SB 9 does say that identification can be provided by mail or electronic means, but doesn’t give details into how this process might work.

Nor does it provide details on how to pay for the cost, estimated by the Governor’s office last year to be over $19 million. When Colorado began requiring identification only for Medicaid programs, it was estimated that the programs would only save $170,000, with an outlay of $2.8 million.

Meanwhile, since about 11% of all US citizens lack identification, people who legitimately qualify for services may be turned away. Applying for identification has gotten more complicated since 9/11 – passports alone take at least 4-6 weeks to be received.

SB 9 is not closing a loophole to potential fraud. That loophole is already closed, since illegal immigrants are ineligible for major benefits programs. What it will do, just as similar requirements have done in other states, is prevent people who qualify for unemployment compensation or other programs from actually receiving them.

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