Illinois House Passes Link Card Photo Bill for "Those People

The Illinois House passed HB161, a bill requiring all Link cards (the state of Illinois 'Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program delivery mechanism) to include a photo of the benefit recipient. Sponsored by twenty-nine House Republicans and carried by Representative Chapin Rose of the 110th District, the bill passed 64-48 and is now headed for the Illinois Senate where a similar bill is being sponsored by Senate Republicans.

Between the mundane (HR0144, a resolution urging the president to name a boat after Aurora) and the ridiculous (HB3178, making it legal to pick up roadkill) you get a bill that is so completely misguided that one can only come to the conclusion that this is really about "them."

You know "those other people." It is not their co-workers, or the guy who delivers their mail or friends they hang out with at the gym... no, those people are OK. The real problems are "those other people."

To believe Representative Rose, Illinois is in a crisis of massive Link Card theft proportions. The very essence of fairness is at stake if the state doesn't drop everything and tackle this rampart abuse of the system, which can be handled with a simple photograph.

Sounds easy enough to fix -- someone just take a picture of "those people."

According to the Center of Budget Policy Priorities, food stamp abuse accounts for less than 1% of total disbursement. That is a statistical outcome that most governmental or private organizations could only hope to strive for. In fact, according to the National Retail Federation, retail loss was actually higher than food stamp abuse. Gasp! The government is running a more efficient program?

It is hard to defend the argument (heard on the Illinois floor) that the bill is about cost savings when the federal government handles the direct cost of food stamps. In fact, Illinois only shares in the delivery of the program -- meaning if this bill becomes law the state will spend millions more and not benefit from the "savings." According to a fiscal note on the bill by Department of Human Services:

The card production and equipment would cost in the range of $2 to $4 million, plus recurring expenditures. Additional staff and resources would also be needed to issue the cards at the FCRCs.

So this is a spending bill? Where's the outrage?

But 1% of "those people" are still committing fraud. So, we still need to photograph "them."

To argue that photos will stop Link Card fraud is like arguing car alarms really stop burglars. In order for them to be effective the clerk has to actually look at them. In most stores, the clerk never sees the method of payment, as the machines to swipe are located in a place for the customer's ease of use. Rep. Rose countered this argument with the fact that phase two of his bill (not written as of yet) will include that retail store clerks must look, but how likely is that going to be?

In the Illinois Senate, State Senator Kyle McCarter is sponsoring a similar bill because of a recent fraud case that happened in his district. According to a report in the Illinois Statehouse News, Senator McCarter came up with this idea after a store clerk was arrested for Link Card fraud. "Rami Mohammad accepted and redeemed food stamp benefits in exchange for lesser amounts of cash instead of eligible food items."

So photographing "those people" stops this how?

It also brings into question how the elderly and handicapped individuals (who rely heavily on assistance) will purchase food when unable to be present. Representative Rose's response was basically that smart people can get around a table and solve that.

I wish those smart people were actually writing the bills.

So if the bill isn't going to save the state money, makes it difficult for the elderly and handicapped to use, and isn't going to make meaningful fraud reductions in a program with less than 1% fraud already, why pass it?

I come back to "those people."

The debate never defined who "those people" are. It couldn't or the bill would have never passed. The debate came close, however, during a heated exchange with Rep. Feigenholtz when Rep. Rose proclaimed he was only interested in helping people (like his mother) who had bootstrapped themselves up from the bottom. Leaving you wondering if his assumption was if you can't bootstrap yourself up, you must be committing fraud. That is an assumption that either shows a complete lack of understanding for the problem of generational poverty or a total disregard.

See, "those people" are not like Rep. Rose or the other twenty-nine sponsors of the bill. It is because of that fact that a bill that is so poorly written and that accomplishes nothing is passed in Springfield.

Surprisingly, during the debate, Rep. Dunkin dared to ask Rep. Rose, "Are you picking on poor people, representative?" Apparently Rep. Dunkin never got the memo that "those people" shall never be defined.

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