According to an audit unveiled Tuesday, the state of Massachusetts has doled out over $18 million in ‘questionable public assistance benefits’ over the past few years, including distributing benefits to over $1,000 people who are either dead or using the Social Security number of a deceased person.
The alarming discovery covered cash, food stamps, and other benefits intended for low-income families, according to a report of the incident by Boston.com.
In 1,164 cases, deceased recipients continued to receive a total of $2.39 million in benefits up to 27 months after they had been reported dead. The state Department of Transitional Assistance also paid out at least $368,000 benefits to 178 guardians who claimed deceased persons as dependents, and $164,000 to 40 individuals being claimed by more than one guardian.
Although state auditor Suzanne Bump said she thought the bulk of the $1.7 billion a year in welfare programs the state provides each year was likely spent appropriately, she said it was disturbing the state was unable to identify so many signs of abuse and deception.
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“It pains all of us in the auditor’s office to think that the program’s integrity is not being maintained,” Bump told Boston.com. “The most frustrating finding is that we were able to identify so many patterns of activity that could have raised suspicions, but did not.”
Some of those suspicions include transactions on electronic benefit cards amounting to $15 million, including almost $5 million in which all food benefits had been withdrawn at once. Meanwhile, five regional offices could not provide documentation for more than 30,000 EBT cards, according to Fox News.
Back in July 2012 the state Department of Transitional Assistance – the department tasked with administering benefits – told auditors it was in the process of addressing several issues, including reviewing a list of welfare recipients to lists maintained by the Social Security Administration of recently-deceased individuals.
However, just one month later, a state auditor found most of those dead recipients were still receiving benefits – including several who started receiving aid for the first time.
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This week’s report adds to an already scandal-plagued 2013 for the Department of Transitional Assistance.
In February, the department’s former director Daniel J. Curley resigned after inspector general Glenn Cunha reported that the agency failed to verify recipients’ eligibility, a shortcut that could have cost the state $25 million a year in unwarranted payments.