In the early years following its inception in 1972, CWFIA was actively involved in pursuing state and federal legislation that would enhance and strengthen statutes and regulations to ensure integrity in public assistance programs.
Simultaneously, CWFIA took a major role in California in opposing and actively challenging efforts in the State Legislature and regulatory agencies to weaken or compromise the integrity of those programs. In 1977, CWFIA formally created a legislative committee to deal with proposed legislation and to oppose legislation and/or regulatory changes that were inimical to our interests.
In 1980, CWFIA actively supported legislation authored by State Senator Dan Boatwright, which was declared a mini-welfare reform effort. While this successful legislation had the effect of more clearly defining welfare statutes concerning cash and food stamp benefits, its prime achievement that directly affected CWFIA was to put in place a statute making all welfare fraud investigators in California, Peace Officers. The bill also made food stamp fraud a specific statutory violation. CWFIA representatives testified in the Legislature in support of the bill and the rapport that was established with Senator Boatwright led to his continuing support of our further efforts to strengthen the efforts of welfare fraud investigators.
In 1980, CWFIA actively supported legislation authored by State Senator Dan Boatwright, which was declared a mini-welfare reform effort. While this successful legislation had the effect of more clearly defining welfare statutes concerning cash and food stamp benefits, its prime achievement that directly affected CWFIA was to put in place a statute making all welfare fraud investigators in California, Peace Officers. The bill also made food stamp fraud a specific statutory violation.
CWFIA representatives testified in the Legislature in support of the bill and the rapport that was established with Senator Boatwright led to his continuing support of our further efforts to strengthen the efforts of welfare fraud investigators.
In 1981, CWFIA made a new friend in the State Legislature in the person of then freshman State Senator Jim Nielsen, who subsequently became the Senate Minority Leader. Senator Nielson, at the behest of CWFIA authored legislation that, among other items, created W&I Code section 10980, the welfare fraud charging statute that consolidated and strengthened fragmented charging statutes that existed at the time. This statute remains on the books to this day.
CWFIA representatives drafted 10980 and parts of other sections of the overall bill that subsequently became law. CWFIA’s relationship continued with Senator Nielsen for some 8 years, during which time he made available office space to our Legislative Committee members while doing business at the State Capitol and he further made his staff available to assist us with legislative issues. Similarly, Senator Nielsen consistently relied and called on CWFIA for advice and guidance on issues dealing with welfare in general as well as seeking ways to strengthen laws against fraud.
Sometime in the 1979-1981 era, the State Department of Social Services was seriously considering a regulatory mandate that would require counties to issue a ten day notice to welfare recipients suspected of fraud before their case could be referred to the District Attorney for prosecution. When CWFIA learned of this proposal the Association took action to actively oppose the measure. Our efforts included contact with key legislators, and DSS officials; however, the key that defeated this proposal involved a CWFIA representative going live on the air in the studio with a prominent San Francisco radio talk-show host where the disastrous effects of this proposal were spelled out. During the broadcast, the talk-show host placed a call o the then Director of DSS, who, after being “placed on the public spot,” abandoned further efforts to put the proposed regulations in place.
Senator Nielsen was a frequent speaker at our annual training conferences and in 1983 was one of the first elected Honorary Life Members of CWFIA, along with then Governor George Deukmejian, then Attorney General John Van de Kamp and Senator Dan Boatwright.
When the infamous Sims decision came down from the State Supreme Court in the mid 80’s, CWFIA, in partnership with CDAA Welfare Fraud Committee representatives immediately authored legislation, and carried by Senator Nielsen that would negate the Supreme Court decision. Despite three separate legislative attempts, one house or the other in the State legislature defeated the proposals. However, through our liaison with CDAA, we were able to offer counties suggestions on dealing with the ramifications of the decision.
Again in the mid to late 80’s, a bill was introduced in the state legislature by a state senator, with the intent of decriminalizing certain types of welfare fraud. The bill was proposed and supported by a coalition of welfare rights organizations. In this proposed legislation, overpayments arising out of unreported employment/earnings of up to $2,000 in any one month would be considered an infraction with the only penalty being an order of restitution. Provisions of the bill prohibited judges from any other form of punishment. Repeat offenders of those failing to make restitution would not suffer any consequences.
There were other unfavorable provisions in the bill that dealt with food stamp violations. CWFIA’s vigorous testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee resulted in a personal conference between the bill’s author and CWFIA representatives. Upon conclusion of the conference, CWFIA prevailed and the senator dropped the bill. This was a controversial bill that had wide support from all of the existing welfare rights advocates but its demise was welcomed from many areas of the state and many comments of gratitude were communicated to CWFIA.
CWFIA was the sponsor of legislation that created a provision in the California Penal Code allowing individual counties the option of arming welfare fraud investigators.
A series of bills in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s designed to provide welfare fraud investigators with safety retirement benefits gained passage in the legislature on three separate occasions but each bill was vetoed by different governors despite strong efforts by CWFIA in lobbying the Governor’s Office. The veto messages were very similar on all three occasions and had nothing to do with the risks and hazards associated with the duties of welfare fraud investigators but more on philosophical grounds having to do with the original intent of safety retirement.
CWFIA was at the forefront of planning and implementation of the statewide Early Fraud Detection Program in the 1980’s. CWFIA played a major role in drafting the legislation that implemented the program, which mandated there be a Commission appointed by Governor and Legislature to review and approve County Early Fraud plans and to hold public hearings around the State to enlighten the public and recipients as to the intent and procedures of the program.
The eight-member commission included two seats held by CWFIA. Each county wishing to participate in the program was required to submit their plan to the commission, which approved, amended or disapproved the plan. The Commission also dealt with complaints concerning the program and was charged with the responsibility of making periodic reports to the Legislature and Governor as to the success of the program and recommendation for changes in the program.
CWFIA carried considerable weight on this commission due to the expertise of the organization’s members. The other six members of the Commission included two welfare directors, two members from labor unions representing eligibility workers and two welfare rights representatives. None of the decisions or recommendations handed down by the Commission was detrimental to the program.
CWFIA worked hand in hand with the DSS State Fraud Bureau in a major rewrite of Division 20 regulations in the 1980’s, clearly defining the role of welfare fraud investigations in the counties and outlining procedures and requirements expected of the counties. Similarly, CWFIA worked with the DSS Fraud Bureau in developing the regulations concerning food stamp disqualification procedures.
CWFIA sponsored enabling legislation in the 1980’s that set in motion the food stamp disqualification process and related issues concerning food stamp fraud. Prior to this state legislation, CWFIA partnered with the United Council on Welfare Fraud (UCOWF) in providing advice and input to Congressional legislators in developing various federal anti-fraud related legislation, including the food stamp disqualification process.
During the Clinton administration, CWFIA opposed the ultimately successful federal legislation that weakened some of the anti-fraud efforts that had been built up over the years. This was the Clinton Welfare Reform legislation.
During the period from the mid 70’s up until the early 90’s, CWFIA was extremely active in liaison and lobbying efforts in Sacramento as evidenced by the activity described above. A small legislative committee made up of our own officers who volunteered their time to represent the organization in Sacramento carried out those efforts. Due to a lack of funds, these committee members performed these duties without reimbursement for expenses until the mid 1980’s when the Association’s finances allowed for reimbursement. The dedication and professional manner in which these individuals represented the Association allowed CWFIA to become a known name and viable entity within the legislative halls of the Capitol.
Similarly, CWFIA was held in high esteem by the State Department of Social Services and representatives were often called in for consultation by upper management on proposed programs and regulations.
During this same time period (mid 70’s – early 90’s), CWFIA also held its annual training conferences in various locations throughout the state with an average of 300 attendees. Also during this period, CWFIA drafted a set of standards for professional training and hiring criteria for welfare fraud investigators throughout the state. Although not mandatory, these standards, which were officially adopted in 1991, were embraced and endorsed by the State Fraud Bureau and a majority of the counties.
Up through the early 1990’s, CWFIA set the standard among all states in innovative efforts to combat fraud and in strong prosecutorial efforts. Many states sought California’s advice in establishing their own standards and CWFIA was often consulted to provide that advice and consul. Much of the success and innovations of other states since that time can be attributed to the pioneering efforts of California led by CWFIA.
CWFIA's mission and goals have not changed since the early days. CDSS has gone through a plethora of directions and Directors. The welfare reforms of 1996 have basically all disappeared, and the goals of California legislators seems to be to hand out benefits without oversight.
CWFIA is still in the trenches fighting back. In recent years, we have strengthened our relationships with the CDSS Fraud Bureau, and have opened dialogue with the highest administrative positions with the USDA.
Looking toward the future, we hope to increase our presence in Washington DC and the California State Capitol. With the support of our members, sponsors, and the American public, CWFIA will continue with the great legacy which our past leaders have forged.