The Wisconsin Department of Health Services has agreed to pay back nearly $7 million to the federal government, as part of a settlement over claims that the agency reported incorrect error rates in its food assistance program and collected bonuses it was not entitled to.
Federal attorneys said the problem was the result of DHS implementing “improper and biased” quality control practices, based on advice from Julie Osnes Consulting. As a result, the agency reported reduced error rates in determining eligibility for its Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in Wisconsin. That resulted in DHS collecting performance bonuses it had not earned in 2009, 2010, and 2011.
In a statement, DHS spokeswoman Julie Lund said the settlement was reached in response to processes put in place under the previous administration, which were discovered once Governor Scott Walker’s administration took over the agency. “In 2011, new leadership at DHS recognized the issues with the outcome-driven methods, and took steps to end these practices. DHS leadership explicitly disavowed the unallowable practices, and held remedial trainings to ensure staff use proper procedures, several years before the FNS audit,” she said.
Acting U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Wisconsin Jeffrey Anderson announced the agreement Thursday morning. In a statement, he said “While I am deeply troubled that these actions happened within a state agency entrusted with assisting vulnerable and needy Wisconsin residents, I am heartened that WDHS has cleaned up its act and that it cooperated with our investigation.”
The settlement is the second this year from a state that had used the Julie Osnes Consulting firm. The Virginia Department of Social Service agreed earlier this month to also pay over $7 million because of similar issue.