POLITICS

Former State Employee Says Kansas Enables Undocumented to Fraudulently Obtain Benefits

Kansas policies make it easy for undocumented immigrants to obtain benefits through fraud, alleges a former social services case worker.

Lana Reed, who worked for the Kansas Department of Social and Rehabilitation Services offices in Overland Park from July 2008 to October 2010, said during a House Judiciary Committee hearing on a proposed immigration bill that agency employees were required to ignore immigrants' use of fraudulent documents to obtain benefits. 

She also criticized an SRS policy on how household incomes are calculated for families with undocumented immigrants who seek food assistance.

SRS spokesman Bill Miskell told The Associated Press that the agency has procedures for preventing undocumented immigrants from getting benefits they shouldn't receive and ensuring that documents presented to it are authentic.

Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer, an Olathe Republican who's pushing the immigration bill, said the allegations are serious enough that he plans to talk with SRS Secretary Rob Siedlecki.

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The bill requires applicants for state benefits to provide "affirmative proof" of their citizenship and requires state and local agencies to check their status and cooperate with the federal Department of Homeland Security in verifying applicants' lawful presence in the U.S.

"There's so much fraud in my caseload, it's indescribable," Reed told the committee.

Reed declined to comment in detail after her testimony, having taken another job after leaving SRS. But she provided a written statement to the committee that said, "The policies in use at the SRS discriminated against Kansas citizens and law-abiding immigrants in favor of illegal aliens."

Miskell said in a telephone interview that he had not seen Reed's testimony but said if undocumented immigrants seek benefits, "There are policies and protocols for dealing with that."

"If someone has evidence or information showing that we are providing services to people who are in the country illegally, we'd want to look at that information," he said.

The committee expects to debate and vote on the bill Monday. It includes provisions similar to an Arizona law enacted last year, requiring law enforcement officers to check the status of people they suspect of being illegal immigrants, if those people have been stopped for another reason. It also requires state agencies and contractors to make a good faith effort to avoid hiring illegal immigrants, using the federal E-Verify program.

Kinzer had help in drafting the bill from Secretary of State Kris Kobach, a law professor on leave who helped write the law enacted in Arizona last year. Kobach said because other states have acted on immigration issues, illegal immigrants are attracted to Kansas.

A coalition of Kansas business groups opposes the legislation, arguing that it will be burdensome both for employers and for state and local agencies. The bill also has drawn criticism from immigrant advocates who believe it will lead to racial profiling, something supporters dispute.

But Kinzer said Reed's testimony made a compelling case for the provisions in the bill aimed at preventing undocumented immigrants from receiving public benefits. And while Rep. Jan Pauls, of Hutchinson, the committee's ranking Democrat, said Reed's allegations need to be verified, they're worth examining.

Reed suggested that SRS case workers are overwhelmed with work, under pressure to resolve issues quickly and forced to sacrifice efforts to detect fraud or verify information, but she singled out a policy in the food assistance programs, in which the state provides benefits to families to help them buy grocery.

That policy discounts a household's income if members are undocumented immigrants. For example, if two parents who are undocumented have two children, only half the parents' income is counted.

Reed said the result is that a family of four, all legal residents, may not be eligible for help, when the family with members who are undocumented will be eligible.

Miskell acknowledged such a result could occur. But he said other rules would reduce the potential benefits to the family with undocumented immigrants.

And the U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that 47 other states all except Massachusetts and Nebraska have similar policies.

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