Bill to forgive DSHS overpayments passes House

Pridemore effort inspired by Vancouver woman's plight

By Paris Achen, Columbian courts reporter

Published:

Updated: March 1, 2012, 6:47 PM

 
photoSen. Craig Pridemore

The state House of Representatives voted 63 to 35 Wednesday to pass a bill that would allow the state Department of Social and Health Services to waive collection of benefit overpayments when the mistake is made by the agency.

The Senate passed the legislation Feb. 14, but the bill was amended by the House. The two chambers must agree on consistent language before Gov. Chris Gregoire can sign the bill into law.

Senate Bill 6508 by Sen. Craig Pridemore, D-Vancouver, was prompted by the case of Vancouver single mother Sarah Remington, who was slapped with a $3,000 bill for overpayment in child care subsidies due to an agency mistake.

“They never said, ‘You should have done something differently,’ ” Remington said.

Remington has appealed and is waiting for an administrative judge’s decision on her case.

“This is a case where a household of limited means was put in serious economic jeopardy because of a mistake on the part of the state,” Pridemore said. “The idea behind state benefits is to help people lift themselves up, not knock them down.”

Remington said she hopes the legislation will help prevent more cases similar to hers.

“I’m really happy,” she said.

There were 1,354 cases of overpayment to child care subsidy recipients as of Oct. 4, 2011, according to the agency’s Office of Financial Recovery. While much of the $2.5 million in overpaid subsidies is a result of fraud or consumer mistakes in reporting financial information, some overpayments are the result of agency errors.

Pridemore’s bill allows the agency to forgo collecting overpayments from a client when an overpayment wasn’t the client’s fault and was less than $2,000. The measure also directs the agency, in collaboration with the Department of Early Learning and the state Auditor’s Office, to develop and provide the Legislature with recommendations by Jan. 1 for improving its monitoring and detection systems to prevent future overpayments.

“This bill will make our state a little bit more fair and may end up saving us some money,” said Rep. Drew Hansen, D-Bainbridge Island.

Paris Achen: 360-735-4551; http://twitter.com/Col_Trends;http://facebook.com/ColTrends;paris.achen@columbian.com.