Some overpayments to clients of the state Department of Social and Human Services (DSHS) would be more likely to be forgiven, rather than repaid, under legislation passed out of the Senate Human Services & Corrections Committee on Thursday night.
Senate Bill 6508, proposed by Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, was prompted by the case of a single mother in Vancouver who had received nearly $3,000 more than she was due from DSHS for her two-year-old son’s child care before DSHS discovered its mistake and billed her for the overpayment.
“Here you have the case of a parent struggling to make ends meet, who received assistance the state assured the mother she qualified for, only to get hit with a $3,000 bill that was not her fault and which she has no way of paying,” Pridemore said. “She’s not alone. Thousands of Washingtonians are on the edge in this economy and the last thing any of them need is for an innocent mistake by DSHS to push them over the edge.”
There have been 1,354 cases of overpayment to child care subsidy recipients as of Oct. 4, 2011, according to DSHS’ Office of Financial Recovery. While much of the $2.5 million in overpaid subsidies are a result of fraud or consumer mistakes in reporting their financial information, some of the overpayments are the result of DSHS errors.
Pridemore’s bill would prod DSHS to forego efforts to recover overpayments that are not the fault of the client. Though DSHS currently has the option to forgive overpayments, it defaults toward requiring it. Pridemore’s bill would shift the onus to the agency when the overpayment is the agency’s fault.
“We’re talking about people who need every cent they can get and who would not have spent that money if the state hadn’t told them it was theirs to spend,” Pridemore said. “It’s not healthy for the state, much less the recipients and their children, for the state to demand families repay money they do not have and cannot afford and was spent through no fault of theirs.”