BOSTON —The state auditor has discovered 1,164 cases where welfare benefits worth nearly $2.4 million continued to flow to enrollees after they were reported deceased or to recipients using a dead person’s Social Security number.
In some cases, store purchases and ATM transactions were made after a recipient’s date of death, suggesting unauthorized people were using the welfare benefits in cases sampled by the auditor’s office, according to the report released yesterday.
Auditor Suzanne Bump called on the Department of Transitional Assistance to beef up its fraud detection, something some lawmakers have also hounded the department about.
Bump said DTA “has not done enough to ensure that only eligible people are receiving benefits.”
The auditor said there are three major areas where the agency could improve to ensure program integrity, including using accessible information from other governmental agencies to verify information. Secondly, the agency needs to better protect blank EBT cards distributed at regional offices. And lastly, DTA needs to better utilize technology within the EBT system to check for fraud.
Bump acknowledged there was a leadership change at DTA within the last year after former Commissioner Dan Hurley was asked to resign and Stacey Monahan took over as interim commissioner. The audit looked at the period from July 1, 2010 to December 31, 2012.
DTA officials said they have already taken steps to correct the problems, citing a 100-day action plan released in March aimed at preventing waste and fraud, blocking EBT card usage at prohibited establishments and monitoring card usage.
“We appreciate the recommendations put forth by the auditor. DTA is committed to continually strengthening program integrity and ensuring that only those who are eligible for benefits receive them,” Monahan said in a statement.
Monahan said DTA recently created a partnership with statewide law enforcement associations to increase data sharing, “while giving local police the tools they need to ensure that clients and retailers are abiding by the law.”
DTA is responsible for administering a variety of state and federal financial assistance programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps, Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children and Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC). In fiscal year 2012, DTA administered more than $1.7 billion in benefits.
Senate President Therese Murray, who is working on welfare system reform legislation, said DTA has made “great progress” with its 100-day action plan, and many of the issues identified in the audit have already been addressed.
From the 1,164 deceased recipient cases, auditors randomly selected 283 cases and found that 190 of those were still shown as having active accounts as of Aug. 31, 2012. Auditors then looked at the account activity and found that 146 showed purchases or ATM transactions made after the recipient’s date of death, according to the report.
Auditors also found $368,000 was paid to 178 guardians claiming deceased persons as dependents, and $164,000 to 40 people who were claimed by more than one guardian. According to a DTA official, out of 178 cases, 79 cases were confirmed as not deceased, 71 were confirmed deceased, and 54 of those were already closed by DTA when the auditor’s office notified the agency.
The audit also found DTA failed to verify “self-reported” Social Security numbers.
While DTA uses national databases to verify self-reported income and employment information, the agency did not verify self-reported Social Security numbers, leading to more than $662,000 paid to individuals who were receiving benefits under two separate Social Security numbers; and more than $359,000 to individuals whose Social Security numbers were being used by more than one individual, according to the auditor. DTA also provided benefits for an “extended amount of time” to recipients with an invalid temporary Social Security number, according to the auditor’s findings.
Bump’s office also found DTA had inadequate security over distributing blank electronic benefits cards (EBT), discovering five regional offices could not provide documentation that accounted for over 30,000 cards. The report called into question the agency’s ability to maintain adequate physical security of blank EBT cards. Auditors found cards left in unsecure locations; incomplete card inventory forms; and regional offices that had failed to properly segregate the responsibilities of staff handing the cards.
DTA also missed opportunities to detect fraud, using its own technology that generates a number of reports, according to the auditor. Bump’s office analyzed unused reports and found more than $15 million in EBT activity that should have triggered an investigation by DTA.