The legal counsel of Governor Dannel Malloy (D-CT) has reported that “many” Connecticut state employees may be involved in food stamp fraud, and is urging heads of state departments to cooperate with investigators and prosecutors on both the state and federal levels.
During a rather abruptly organized press conference last Sunday, Gov. Malloy revealed that 800 of the 23,000 people who obtained federal disaster aid, following Tropical Storm Irene, were state employees, some of whom may actually qualify for the assistance. Thus far, 24 state employees appear to have fraudulently qualified for the disaster aid.
Andrew McDonald, the governor’s chief counsel, said, “We have credible information to suspect that many state employees who received the benefits did so by materially misrepresenting important information included in their applications” for food stamp benefits.”
Those who applied for the disaster funds, known as D-SNAP, received debit cards for as much as $1200, to replace food that had reportedly spoiled due to lack of electrical power during the period following the storm.
As was reported here on September 29, 2011, thousands of people waited in lines for days in the wake of Tropical Storm Irene, in front of Connecticut’s DSS buildings, some of them obtaining emergency funds even though they lived in areas, such as the capital city of Hartford, which had not lost power as a result of the storm. The state administered the $12.4 million in disaster aid funded by the federal government.
The ease with which many were able to obtain D-SNAP funds was discussed anecdotally on local radio talk shows. The chaotic hordes of people lining up to receive D-SNAP funds led conservative Republican state Sen. Joseph Markley to approach the state auditors and ask them to look into the situation. On a talk radio program, Sen. Markley said, “I think, during the course of their investigation, they started turning over some rocks, and it became obvious that there was wrongdoing involved, and some embarrassment. And I believe that’s what led the governor to get out ahead of the story, holding this extraordinary press conference on a Sunday afternoon.”
Officials in Gov. Malloy’s administration indicated that the alleged fraud was committed by state employees who underreported their income in their applications for the funds. They also said that irregularities were discovered by staff of the state’s DSS department.
Mr. Malloy complimented the commissioner of DSS for the discovery, as did the U. S. Department of Agriculture spokesman, Aaron Lavallee, who remarked that the discovery of the alleged fraud was evidence of adequate safeguards, not lax oversight.
“This nutrition assistance program is designed as a rapid response to families in need, and it includes important system controls to safeguard taxpayer dollars,” Lavallee said. “The safeguards in place worked, and we will continue to support the state to make sure the program is targeted towards those families who need it the most.”
The D-SNAP program “worked?” Not according to state House Minority Leader, Republican Lawrence Cafero, who said, “Remember, this is the same state agency that was giving checks to dead people.”
Rep. Cafero expressed confusion about why the state does not improve its income verification procedures. “Why not ask people to bring in a pay stub?” he asked.
But, Connecticut’s DSS Commissioner, Roderick Bremby, responded that the federal government does not require income verification.
Sound just like stereotypic government bureaucracy? According to “stated” D-SNAP rules, in Connecticut, applicants must have met financial criteria to qualify for the assistance. Take-home income and liquid assets for the period from Aug. 27 to Sept. 25 could not exceed $2,186 for a single person; $2,847 for a household of two; $3,272 for a household of three; $3,859 for a household of four; $4,254 for a household of five; $4,753 for a household of six; $5,116 for a household of seven; and $5,479 for a household of eight.
So, DSS sets up the rules, but are the rules just “for show,” to taxpayers, perhaps, who are footing the bill? Commissioner Bremby confirms, indeed, that the federal government does not require income verification when it comes time to dole out the money. And the state of Connecticut, according to the governor’s legal counsel, is expected to go along with that procedure.
Apparently, the system really isn’t “working.” According to Connecticut’s WTNH News, an unnamed source, but reportedly someone who has worked for DSS for many years, has charged that the state’s DSS department has been ignoring fraud for years because of staffing shortages. While Commissioner Bremby has denied knowledge of any other fraud in DSS programs, this individual has stated that the suspected fraud in the D-SNAP program is just the tip of the iceberg. Regarding this program, the individual indicated that DSS employees were told to approve everyone. “The interviewers were told to accept the documentation, however small it was, that they were given, and process the request for the card.” The source said that people have been fraudulently receiving funds for years, while the agency looks the other way.
Asked by WTNH how much money might be involved in the alleged fraud, the source said, “There’s got to be millions of dollars involved.”
Despite this report, Gov. Malloy said he was unsure if he would review those non-state employees who obtained the D-SNAP funds, i.e., the hordes of people waiting in line to receive taxpayer money, whether they lost power or not.
Yes, Gov. Malloy’s administration sure sounds committed to rooting out fraud in the Department of Social Services. They’ll hammer a bunch of state employees, act morally outraged, and put on a good show; but they’ll turn their heads and go about their business when asked to review the myriad of other cases who likely didn’t qualify for assistance either. Nothing new here.