- Associated Press - Tuesday, November 3, 2015

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - The state Assembly passed bills Tuesday that Republicans said would help reduce fraud in Wisconsin’s food stamps and unemployment insurance programs, as Democrats argued the GOP is really advancing a hateful political agenda with the poor and jobless suffering as scapegoats.

The Republican-controlled Assembly approved three bills targeting participants of Wisconsin’s food stamps program known as FoodShare. A fourth bill would take unemployment benefits away for seven years from those who pretend to be someone else or lie when applying.

Republican backers said their goal was to ensure that benefits are only going to people who are supposed to get them. But Democrats said the measures will do nothing to prevent fraud, and are instead a distraction from issues people really care about such as creating jobs.

“It’s becoming clear to me Republicans have a favorite new punching bag - the poor and the jobless,” said Democratic Rep. Andy Jorgensen, of Milton. Citing the estimated $9.5 million startup costs of the measures, Jorgensen called the bills “foolish and wasteful.”

“It’s appalling they’d waste that much money to try and label themselves as reformers,” Jorgensen said.

The most expensive bill, at $7.4 million to implement and $2 million each year after that, would require that FoodShare electronic benefit cards include photo identification of every household member who would be using the program.

That would require about 368,000 new cards with photos being sent to more than 823,000 FoodShare clients.

But store clerks would not have to look at the image before completing a sale. Requiring FoodShare participants to present a card with a photo on it in order to purchase food would require a federal waiver, something the bill does not seek.

Placing a photo on each card would reduce trafficking of the cards, said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Jesse Kremer, of Kewaskum.

It passed on a 57-40 vote, with four Republicans joining Democrats in voting against it.

Another bill would allow a FoodShare recipient to receive three replacement debit cards each year with no questions asked. After a fourth request in a year, the person would be notified of possible investigation for fraud. After a fifth request, the person would be investigated.

It passed on a 66-31 vote, with five Democrats joining all Republicans in support.

The third FoodShare proposal would require the state to seize all benefits from the program if an account has not been accessed in six months or more. Recipients could not access the benefits again until they make a request for an account to be reactivated or they reapply for the program.

Doing that would be a deterrent to selling benefits and remove a “temptation to fraud,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican Rep. Andre Jacque, of DePere.

Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos questioned whether it would take $1.3 million to institute as estimated, but said even if it did the cost was worth it to help the public believe fraud is being fought.

That bill passed 66-31, with all Republicans and five Democrats voting for it.

The Assembly also approved a bill to deny unemployment benefits for seven years to anyone who impersonates someone to obtain benefits two times. Anyone who conceals information in order to qualify in two subsequent years would also lose benefits for seven years.

Democrats said that would ensnare people who make honest mistakes, while Republicans said those cases would be weeded out and only those who were trying to defraud the system would lose benefits.

It passed 63-34 with two Democrats joining Republicans in support.

No one has registered to lobby in support of any of the FoodShare bills, and no one testified at public hearings on the measures except for Republican lawmakers sponsoring them. The proposal targeting unemployment benefits is supported by a host of groups representing large and small businesses, including the state chamber of commerce.

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Follow Scott Bauer on Twitter at https://twitter.com/sbauerAP .

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