It appears unlikely that we’ve seen the last of problems associated with Wisconsin Shares. During a legislative hearing Wednesday, on a bill to prohibit persons with criminal records from being licensed as child care providers, Joint Audit Committee co-chair, Representative Peter Barca said more will be revealed about the problem plagued program. “The final audit on this program will come out later in the year, most likely in December,” said Barca. “That will bring new findings to light, and I expect probably new legislation and new regulations.”
Investigative reporting by the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel uncovered providers falsifying records to obtain additional payments from the state, in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars. In addition, the audit identified about $20-million in fraudulent claims that had been made in 2008. Auditors also found that addresses given by four registered sex offenders match the addresses of four licensed and certified child care providers in southeast Wisconsin. Reggie Bicha, the secretary of the year and-half-old Department of Children and Family Services, told members of the legislature’s Joint Finance Committee recently that his agency was formed in part to combat the sorts of abuses uncovered in the audit and by media reports. During an on-air interview last month, Bicha told Racine radio station WRJN that there was an “assumption that child care providers were going to be good business owners and do the right things,” when Wisconsin Shares was created in 1996. “The necessary controls that should have been in this program were never developed from the beginning,” Bicha said.
Bicha’s comments were echoed Wednesday by DCFS Deputy Secretary Henry Wilde, who testified before the Assembly Committee on Children and Families. “When this program was designed thirteen years ago, the type of criminal activity, particularly organized criminal activity that we believe has taken place in the program . . . was never imagined or conceived of,” said Wilde, who noted that his agency has suspended 88 Wisconsin Shares providers in recent weeks. Committee members, Representatives Richard Spanbauer (R-Oshkosh) and Terese Berceau (D-Madison) expressed incredulity that so many suspensions had occurred, and wondered why that hadn’t happened sooner. Wilde pointed out that oversight authority for Wisconsin Shares previously fell under the state Department of Workforce Development, and that DCFS has been in existence for just fifteen months. In that time, he said the agency has made strides. “I certainly appreciate that when you hear that 88 providers are suspended, that one reaction is why didn’t it happen sooner,” Wilde conceded. “If you go to our website, we have individual descriptions of each provider, and why we reasonably suspected fraud.”
Another committee member, Representative Sondy Pope-Roberts (D-Middleton), commended Wilde and DCFS for the progress made in combating fraud within Wisconsin Shares. And Representative Tamara Grigsby (D-Milwaukee), the committee chair and author of the bill, said despite the recent publicity, the issue is one which she and others have been working on for years.