Opinion: Fingerprinting in IHSS system can’t legally be used to prove fraud

California is prepared to launch a new program that would spend nearly $10 million of our tax money to have In Home Supportive Services (IHSS) homecare providers and their clients put their fingerprints on their timecards. Problem is these fingerprints cannot legally be used to prove fraud.

Sounds like another example of the kind of “wasteful government spending” and “bureaucracy running amok” that Republicans in the state Senate and Assembly love to preach about.

But when the Legislature voted recently to send a bill to Gov. Brown that would cancel this wasteful program, NOT ONE Republican legislator supported it.

Why?  It’s quite simple. Any time the Republicans have the opportunity to show they are “tough on crime,” the facts don’t matter and wasteful spending is perfectly fine.

In 2009, then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger launched an aggressive campaign against what he termed “massive” fraud in the (IHSS) homecare program for low-income elderly and disabled Californians. Flanked by a cadre of ambitious county attorneys, the former governor claimed that the fraud rate in IHSS was at least 25 percent.  

That figure was roundly ridiculed and promptly discredited. No study of IHSS has shown the fraud rate to be any more than one or two percent.  Any fraud in any government program is wrong and should be investigated and prosecuted, but a fraud rate of one or two percent is hardly an “epidemic.”

Nonetheless, the governor was able to force the Legislature to appropriate more than $100 million in the 2010-11 state budget for an IHSS “anti-fraud” program.  This included mandatory fingerprinting of all IHSS recipients and providers, unannounced home visits by fraud investigators, and an orientation video for providers that looks more like something from “America’s Most Wanted” than vital information for caregivers.

The problem is that the fingerprints that IHSS consumers and providers are required to place on their timesheets likely are not of sufficient quality to be used for any purpose in the legal system. Indeed, the California Department of Social Services testified that it cannot legally compare timesheet fingerprints to original fingerprints taken by trained technicians.

Despite this, when the Legislature passed SB 930, a bill which would eliminate this ineffective and wasteful practice, every Republican voted no. Because they may have feared that political opponents would brand them as “soft on crime,” they turned a blind eye to the wasteful spending of millions of our tax dollars at a time when we face a serious budget crisis.

Want another example of hypocrisy?  When Attorney General Kamala Harris busted the medical laboratory conglomerate Quest Diagnostics earlier this year for illegally overcharging the state’s Medi-Cal program – and the taxpayer – more than $241 MILLION, the reaction from the Republican “fraud-fighters” was dead silence.

As Assemblymember Bob Blumenfield said: “I don’t understand why they can’t muster the same fervor for going after big white-collar government contractors, and other firms that score lucrative government contracts, whose taxpayer rip-offs dwarf the meager amounts possibly scammed by a few near-minimum wage caregivers….”   

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