Congresswoman Kristi Noem’s Weekly Column: Where the Billions Go

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Where the Billions Go
By Rep. Kristi Noem
June 5, 2015

kristi noem headshot May 21 2014Month after month, nearly every American worker makes payments to the federal government. And year after year, our concerns increase about the lack of genuine accountability over how those hard-earned dollars are spent. I believe it’s reached a tipping point.

As an example, in FY2014, the Unemployment Insurance program made $5.6 billion worth of improper payments. That means about 12 percent of their overall payments went to the wrong recipient, were made out for the wrong dollar amount, were offered without proper documentation, or were given to a recipient who used those taxpayer funds improperly.

The same was true for the Supplemental Security Income program, which is intended to help give a hand up to disabled Americans who have limited income and resources. This program made $5.1 billion in improper payments in FY2014, totaling about 9.2 percent of the program’s overall expenditures. We can do better.

Earlier this month, I joined House Republicans in introducing a series of bills intended to strengthen the integrity of these programs.

I led on a bill, for instance, that aims to prevent wanted felons from receiving taxpayer-funded benefits. It’s almost unbelievable that this is a problem – that a felon can evade prosecution for months or years, but somehow still receive checks from the government every 30 days or so. It has to stop and my bill, the CUFF Act, helps accomplish that.

More specifically, the CUFF Act ensures anyone who is violating a condition of their probation or parole or running from a felony charge – in other words, a crime carrying a minimum term of one or more years of prison – will not be able to receive Social Security benefits. It’s that simple. If passed, the legislation would save hardworking taxpayers as much as $4.8 billion over the next decade, according to preliminary Congressional Budget Office estimates. To me, it seems like an obvious correction to make.

Another bill introduced – the PERP Act – states that you can’t receive unemployment benefits if you’re in prison. Technically, those in jail or prison aren’t supposed to be receiving benefits, but they do because of unclear legal language.

In Illinois, for instance, more than $2 million in unemployment benefits went to inmates, according to a 2012 report. In New Jersey, a 2013 audit showed 20,000 inmates were paid nearly $24 million in state and federal benefits. In Pennsylvania, more than 1,000 inmates were collecting about $334 every week, according to another 2013 report. The PERP Act would close the loopholes and ensure your money stays out of the hands of prisoners.

Without question, more must be done to respect your hard-earned tax dollars. Our confidence in the federal government’s ability to spend our money responsibly has been broken – and for good reason. The package of bills I helped introduce earlier this month would allow us to save billions of dollars, but we still have a lot more to do.


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