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The Wisconsin Shares program was intended to provide child care subsidies so needy mothers could seek work. However, the taxpayer-funded program was rife with abuse and fraud as parents and child care providers alike scammed the system.
Numerous calls for improvements to the $350 million program came after the Journal Sentinel published a series of stories, "Cashing in on Kids," beginning in January 2009.
In early 2009, after the initial stories ran, newly elected Rep. Sandy Pasch, D-Whitefish Bay, was among those from both parties calling for reforms. Among other things, there was a call for a comprehensive audit of Wisconsin Shares, to examine every element of the program from initial intake to the final payments.
The legislative fallout from the stories forms the basis of TV and radio ads being run by the conservative Wisconsin Club for Growth against Democrats, including Pasch, who faces state Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, in an Aug. 9, 2011, recall election
The radio ad against Pasch states:
"Wisconsin taxpayers lost millions to people scamming the state welfare system and Representative Sandy Pasch did nothing to stop it. One provider stole enough money to buy an mansion with an indoor pool and basketball court. But Pasch voted against funding for fraud investigations even after it was reported that child care centers were used to transport drugs, launder dirty cash and provide fake employment for criminals."
(Similar versions of the ad have aired against Rep. Fred Clark, D-Baraboo, and Sen. Jim Holperin, D-Eagle River. Clark is challenging Sen. Luther Olsen, R-Ripon, while Holperin is being challenged by Republican Kim Simac. The ads are not available online. There also appear to be multiple versions of the ads airing in individual races.)
So, did Pasch "do nothing to stop" people from scamming the system and vote against funding for fraud investigations?
When we asked Club for Growth spokesman R.J. Johnson for backup, he cited the following as evidence:
-- On June 16, 2009, Pasch voted against an amendment to the 2009-2011 budget to provide funding for welfare fraud investigations.
-- Pasch voted against the 2011-’13 state budget, which included funding for welfare fraud investigations.
The second claim is a bit of a reach. The 2011-’13 state budget contained some $605,500 to a year to investigate fraud in the Wisconsin Shares program. However, that was one tiny part of the overall budget, which Democrats opposed for much larger reasons. Indeed, the 2009-’10 state budget included funding for five new state workers to investigate fraud in Wisconsin Shares; Sen. Darling (and other Republicans) voted against that budget.
Before we dig into the first vote, let’s look closer at the program and Pasch’s overall record on it.
Wisconsin Shares was started in 1997 as part of the state’s welfare reform initiatives. The program was designed to give low-wage working parents assistance with child care, encouraging them to get and keep jobs, rather than stay on welfare. It serves about 34,000 families.
Pasch took office in January of 2009, the same month the newspaper began publishing stories about problems with the program that allowed child care providers and parents to game the system.
An early step taken to address problems with Wisconsin Shares came in February 2009 when lawmakers, including Pasch, voted unanimously to conduct a state audit of the program.
That audit, released later that year, found that state regulators had misspent an estimated $20 million in 2008 alone. The audit also determined that about 11 percent of the cases studied had eligibility and other problems and said that the program has significant holes that allow the system to be defrauded and abused.
Later in 2009, lawmakers were considering the 2009-’11 state budget and several amendments dealt with the issue.
One of them is the basis of the item cited in the Club For Growth ad against Pasch.
Amendment #80, offered by state Rep. Robin Vos, R-Rochester, called for spending $500,000 for additional welfare fraud investigations. The amendment was tabled on a 50-48 vote, with Pasch joining the majority.
So Pasch voted to table the amendment.
But that amendment would have affected a different program called Food Shares, and not the Wisconsin Shares program that covers the child care payments.
Beyond that, Pasch did support other measures to address problems with Wisconsin Shares.
Other measures Pasch supported included the creation of Act 2, which included a fraud detection unit that led to the suspension of payments to 130 providers and identified millions in overpayments in 2010. She also supported Act 76, which stops providers with criminal backgrounds or a history of abusing public assistance programs from receiving program payments and being licensed to care for kids and suspends state payments if a provider is under investigation and increases state review of child care providers, employees, and non-client residents of in-home providers. Another bill she supported, Act 77, strengthens the state's ability to go after fraudulent child care center operators, even if their businesses have dissolved.
And there’s the 2009-’10 budget -- which Pasch voted in favor of -- that included funding for the five additional state Wisconsin Shares fraud investigators.
So let’s put this one to bed.
The Club for Growth says Pasch "did nothing to stop" people from scamming the Wisconsin Shares program and voted against funding for fraud investigations. She did vote against a 2009 budget amendment that increased funding for fraud investigations (of a different program) and voted against the 2011-’13 state budget that included fraud investigation funds.
So there is an element of truth to the statement made by Club for Growth. But Pasch and supported numerous other measures to address problems with the child care program, including ones that cracked down on fraud. That means the statement "ignores critical facts that would give a different impression."
And that’s the yardstick used by the Truth-O-Meter to describe one thing: a statement that is Mostly False.
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Lawmakers want review of system,"Jan. 27, 2009
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Full audit ordered for state’s child care program," Feb. 19, 2009
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, "Child-care audit finds 600 overdue inspections, other problems," Dec. 17, 2009
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel achives, "Cashing in on Kids."
Email interview, R.J. Johnson, Wisconsin Club for Growth, Aug. 3, 2011
Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau
State budget documents, 2009-10, 2011-13
Interview, emails, Gillian Morris, Democratic Party of Wisconsin spokesperson, August 2 and 4 2011
Interview, emails, Kevin D. Benish, aide, Rep. Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee), Aug. 4, 2011
Emails, interview, Scot Ross, OneWisconsinNow, Aug. 1, 2, 2011.
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