Barclay Drafts Legislation to Require Felony Status Check on Benefit Applicants

Bill follows case in which fleeing felon received state benefits
November 16, 2011

Assemblyman Will Barclay (R,C,I—Pulaski) has drafted legislation that would require the Department of Social Services work directly with the Division of Criminal Justice Services to check the wanted felon status of people applying for state benefits. It was recently discovered that a man wanted for attempted murder, kidnapping and possession of a weapon in South Carolina was collecting New York State benefits.

“A man wanted for attempted murder was not only living in our midst but the state was paying him to be here. This man was able to evade arrest and receive New York State benefits. This is not who our benefits are designed to support. We need to reduce the chances of this happening again,” said Barclay.

“A basic, criminal background check would remand these applicants to the justice system,” said Barclay. “I’m not advocating an extensive background check but a quick, cross-reference similar to how police check those they arrest that would tell DCJS whether there is an outstanding felony warrant or if they are in violation of probation or parole.”

Currently, there is a question on page 12 of the benefits application that asks the applicant if they or “someone in their household is fleeing prosecution, confinement or conviction of a felony,” and another question asking whether they are “violating probation or parole.” The applicant is asked to check ‘yes’ or ‘no.’ However, currently, answers to this question are not routinely verified.

“All applicants are on the ‘honor’ system. Obviously, this way of checking is not working,” said Barclay.

There are statutes in place that protect the applicant if it is determined that they, in fact, did not know such a violation or warrant existed.

Barclay’s bill would also require those benefits be paid back to the state if the applicant is found to be knowingly fleeing a felony charge or knows that he/she is in violation of a condition of probation or parole and has intentionally misrepresented his/her status on the application. Under current law, if it is discovered that the recipient is wanted for arrest, benefits are not required to be repaid to the state, unless the applicant admitted to being a fleeing felon or a probation/parole violator. This is incongruent, as those convicted of welfare fraud can be required to pay back up to three times of what they received in benefits. Barclay said this is a type of fraud and violators should not be exempt from laws that already are in place.

“Let me again point out the obvious: A man wanted for attempted murder, kidnapping and possession of a weapon was fleeing from the law AND receiving New York State benefits. Essentially, the state gave money to a known felon and enabled him to continue living as a free man. I’m happy to introduce legislation that would address this serious flaw in the system and hope my colleagues in the Assembly and Senate will help see that this passes.”