Innocent recipients of overpayments by the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) could be forgiven rather than penalized, under legislation passed today by the Senate.
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. Though the mistake was not hers, the woman was suddenly faced with a $3,000 debt and no means of repaying it.
“This was an honest mistake, but it put this woman in an impossible predicament,” Pridemore said. “That’s not fair. DSHS needs to more carefully consider the impact its errors can inflict and more energetically work to avoid making those errors in the first place.”
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 prods DSHS to waive all efforts to collect overpayments from a client when it determines that the overpayment was not the fault of the client and the overpayment was less than $2,000. The measure also directs DSHS, in collaboration with the Department of Early Learning and the State Auditor's Office, to develop and provide the Legislature with recommendations for improving its monitoring and detection systems to prevent overpayments from occurring.
SB 6508 passed on a 31-18 vote and now goes to the House for consideration.