Massachusetts paid out $2.39 million in welfare benefits to dead people

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An audit of the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) issued Tuesday revealed millions of dollars in “questionable benefits,” including millions paid out to dead people.

According to Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump, the audit identified 1,164 cases in which welfare recipients continued to receive benefits from six to 27 months after they had died. These dead individuals received $2.39 million in total.

In most of the cases the auditors sampled, deceased individuals’ Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards was discovered to still be in use — thus leading to the assumption that people other than the intended recipients were using the benefits.

Additionally, the audit revealed that DTA paid out at least $368,000 in benefits to 178 guardians who were claiming dead individuals as dependents. In another category, auditors found 40 benefit recipients who were being claimed by more than one guardian.

The audit further showed DTA paid over $662,000 to people who were receiving benefits under two separate Social Security numbers and $359,000 to people whose SSNs were being used by more than one person.

The report also offered more concerns about the security of EBT cards.

“A review of DTA’s processes for distributing blank EBT cards revealed that five regional offices could not provide documentation that accounted for over 30,000 cards, calling into question the agency’s ability to maintain an adequate physical security of blank EBT cards,” the State Auditor wrote in a press release. “Past internal investigations have found DTA employees misusing blank EBT cards to access recipients’ benefits inappropriately. Auditors found incomplete card inventory forms, cards left in unsecure locations, and the failure of regional offices to properly segregate the responsibilities of staff handling the cards.”

The report also delved into areas of additional potential fraud that the auditor said DTA should have investigated. Such areas included $1.5 million in even-dollar EBT transactions (which raise concerns about retailers purchasing benefits for cash), excessive requests for replacement EBT cards (since 2006, 9,800 people have requested 10 or more replacement cards), $4.58 million in out-of-state withdrawals, and $5 million in cash withdrawals from an EBT’s full monthly balance — raising the concern that benefits were exchanged for cash or other unintended purposes.

According to the state auditor, these missed opportunities for investigation represented $15 million in EBT activity that should have received more attention.

The audit has resulted in DTA adopting an “action plan” to help alleviate some of the problems.

“This audit demonstrates that DTA can do more to ensure that only eligible people are receiving benefits and that those benefits are not being abused,” Bump said in a statement. “I am encouraged that DTA has implemented a 100-day plan and is working to address each of these issues and improve its operations.”

In fiscal year 2012, DTA oversaw the administration of $1.7 billion in benefits.

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