State Senator Mary Lazich (R-New Berlin) represents parts of four counties: Milwaukee, Waukesha, Racine, and Walworth. Her Senate District 28 includes New Berlin, Franklin, Greendale, Hales Corners, Muskego, Waterford, Big Bend, the town of Vernon and parts of Greenfield, East Troy, and Mukwonago. Senator Lazich has been in the Legislature for more than a decade. She considers herself a tireless crusader for lower taxes, reduced spending and smaller government.
As a member of the Joint Committee on Audit, I voted in favor of a full audit of the taxpayer-funded Wisconsin Shares child care program. I was the first legislator to call for an audit following an investigative series by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. The Joint Committee on Audit approved an audit of Wisconsin Shares, 10-0.
Prior to the vote, State Auditor Janice Mueller informed the committee an audit of Wisconsin Shares would be conducted in two phase. An investigative phase to ascertain the scope of the problems in Wisconsin Shares would be conducted and completed no later than this June. The second phase would evaluate issues of quality and assess the program’s regulatory process.
During the hearing, I mentioned that a past audit that I requested of the Food Stamp program was intended to catch or minimize the problems encountered in Wisconsin Shares because the Food Stamp program is an access point for other programs. I asked Auditor Mueller if there were reasons why this did not occur. Mueller said the answers are hard to come by because of delays and backlogs in food stamp applications.
I also asked Mueller if the Audit Bureau would be sampling the experiences of foster parents. Mueller confirmed that input would be sought from foster parents and that if anyone wanted to provide information anonymously, they could contact the state’s toll-free hotline of waste and fraud.
Prior to the committee vote, I testified, asking for a full audit of the Wisconsin Shares child care program. Here is my testimony:
Testimony of Senator Mary Lazich
On Audit request of Wisconsin Shares
Joint Committee on Audit
February 19, 2009
Good morning, Co-committee chairs Senator Vinehout and Representative Barca and committee members. Thank you for the opportunity to provide testimony to the Joint Committee on Audit on my request about an audit of the Wisconsin Shares program.
Many of us recall the blaring headline on the front page of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel just a few weeks ago: “Child-care scams rake in thousands.” That was the newspaper’s introduction to a series of investigative reports on Wisconsin Shares, the state taxpayer supported child care system. The $340-million program, when successful, provides assistance to low-income parents to help them get and retain jobs.
However, during the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel’s four-month long investigation, it discovered Wisconsin Shares was not operating effectively or appropriately. The newspaper found what it called, “a trail of phony companies, fake reports and shoddy oversight.”
The Journal Sentinel reported, “The system allows child-care providers and parents to easily con the system, capitalizing on children for public cash.” With limited access to child care cases, the Journal Sentinel still was able to pinpoint $750,000 in suspicious child-care disbursements.
Taxpayers funding this program demand answers and accountability concerning these serious allegations. The current conditions outlined by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel are unacceptable. The newspaper’s findings include counties accepting almost anything as verification of employment for parents requesting assistance, caseworkers approving child care while children were at school all day, and regulators reluctant to revoke licenses for fraud.
My fear is that the problems associated with Wisconsin Shares are even more serious than the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel uncovered. It appears the state and local governments investigated refused to provide some information to the newspaper. That indicates to me that the true scope of the problem could be even more serious and widespread. That is the reason a full audit of Wisconsin Shares is necessary.
I liken this to the welfare fraud allegations that led to major reform in Wisconsin that served as a model for the rest of the nation. The newspaper articles along with a thorough review could lead to a much-needed overhaul of the program. Like the welfare scandals years ago, the taxpaying public will not tolerate waste and fraud. We have to protect the taxpayers and we must ensure that the truly needy, the truly deserving are receiving program services. Measures to prevent cash-grabbing scams can be put in place only after a full audit.
The Legislative Audit Bureau will have far greater access and cooperation than the newspaper received and I trust will do an excellent job determining the seriousness of the fraud in Wisconsin Shares.