Martin Hawver
Guest Columnist
It’s a short stack of Kansans who are opposed to rooting out welfare fraud and abuse, and you’ve probably noticed in every politician’s campaign pamphlet there’s a line about eradicating fraud in public welfare programs.
Nobody wants people to lie or make misrepresentations to receive social benefits like food stamps, welfare, Medicaid and such. We realize that money squandered on people who don’t qualify for or need public assistance just thins out the amount of money available for the truly needy who must have public assistance to survive.
OK, that said, the state has contracted for $85 million in computer linkage gear called the Kansas Eligibility Enforcement System that is designed to make sure that folks who sign up for state benefits such as welfare and food stamps and Medicaid and other assistance genuinely qualify for the benefits.
But we’re wondering whether at some point Kansans become a dab concerned about allowing Social and Rehabilitation Services and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to dip into the databases at the Kansas Department of Revenue and the Department of Labor to check to make sure that applicants for social services are entitled to that assistance.
It’s not quite a “black helicopter” deal—and even conservatives don’t mind as long as that helicopter hovers over someone else’s house—but it does  provide state government with an unprecedented ability to compare data held by separate agencies which now don’t generally easily share information.
That eligibility enforcement system might sell itself to lawmakers and the public based simply on rooting out “welfare waste fraud and abuse.” Catchy phrase, of course.
But most Kansans probably haven’t considered that linking up virtually every bit of information state government has on each resident may be a dab intrusive.
Use that sprawling database to check eligibility for people applying for public assistance? No problem. But it’s a melding of databases that many people who carry gold cards in their wallets would maybe just as soon that the government didn’t have just a few computer clicks away.
For whatever percentage—and we sense that it’s growing—of Kansans who distrust or mistrust government, that linkage of state databases probably is, or might become once people learn more about it, worrisome.
Now, there are supposed to be strict safeguards in the system so that while verifying that a family actually qualifies for free or reduced-price lunches for their children in school, state employees don’t come up with personal information that isn’t germane to the process—or to people who aren’t applying for assistance.  And, the system is also supposed to save time by noting that there may be other social services for which an applicant is eligible but just didn’t know about, or would have to separately apply to a different agency to receive.
But…we’re betting that there’s some nascent concern out there about the most comprehensive linkage of Kansans’ contact with state government since, well, probably the invention of the computer.
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