(TNS) -- Ventura County has joined a pilot project to test a new — and quicker — way of verifying the identity of public assistance recipients to prevent fraud.
The state is evaluating a web-based system that could replace the collection of fingerprints from people applying for programs providing cash aid to indigent adults and poor families. Ventura County will test the system for applicants of CalWORKs, which provides income and work training for 5,000 low-income households in the county.
Ventura along with Placer, Los Angeles, Riverside, Napa and Stanislaus counties are participating in the pilot. Under an agreement authorized Tuesday by the Ventura County Board of Supervisors, officials will be testing the system starting late this month and ending in June.
Curtis Updike, deputy director in the county Human Services Agency, said the county has been screening applicants by fingerprints since federal welfare reform began in the mid-1990s. The fingerprint image is compared with those collected statewide to make sure applicants are telling the truth about their identities and are not drawing aid in another county, he said.
He said the new system should be less intrusive and faster. "This could be done while you apply," he said.
Staff members will enter the applicants' data into a web portal provided by Pondera Solutions, a technology company based in the Sacramento area. Pondera checks information on applicants against third-party business and consumer data to detect potential fraud, according to the company's website.
Updike said he understands that results pop up instantaneously in the form of color-coded symbols. Red signifies a problem, yellow indicates something questionable and green means a pass. It can take up to two days to get results from a fingerprint image, he said.
Updike said he could not recall a single instance in which the fingerprint check from a county resident detected fraud. A state official, though, said about 65 cases are found to be fraudulent each year in California. The state spends $12.3 million annually on the fingerprint imaging program.
State officials decided to test the system in an effort to find a less stigmatizing way of checking for fraud than fingerprinting, said Michael Weston, a spokesman for the state Department of Social Services.
The state requires counties to use both systems during the pilot, then will compare the results. No one would be denied benefits based purely on the pilot test, officials said.
Evaluators will look at how well the system performed compared with fingerprint imaging, the experience of clients and the effect on business operations, Weston said.
©2017 Ventura County Star (Camarillo, Calif.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.