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Officials Dispute Findings Of Mass. Welfare Audit

Steve LeBlanc, Associated Press
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BOSTON (AP) — The Patrick administration is disputing claims by the state auditor that questionable welfare payments were made to more than 1,100 people who were dead or otherwise ineligible to receive payments, saying the audit includes inaccuracies and false claims.

Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz said in a letter Thursday to state Auditor Suzanne Bump that her office has only provided the agency with the names of 178 cases where individuals were allegedly deceased even though their guardians continued to claim benefits.

Polanowicz said that of those 178 cases, 13 were duplicate entries, 54 had already been closed and 79 individuals were in fact not dead.

He said the department took action on 32 cases as a result of the audit and that only 17 cases were identified as guardians receiving benefits after a recipient had died — and those cases have been closed.

Polanowicz also labeled as false a portion of Bump’s audit that said the welfare department provided $662,000 in benefits to individuals receiving benefits under two separate Social Security numbers.

He said Bump’s office provided 26 cases to review and that 18 of those cases “were actually two individuals living at the same home with the same name.”

“Of the remaining cases, two are being investigated … as potential fraud,” Polanowicz wrote.

Bump responded to the letter Thursday, saying she and Polanowicz share the same goal in ensuring public assistance programs are run with integrity.

“The recommendations of this audit, which have been adopted by DTA (Department of Transitional Assistance), will do this,” Bump wrote. “A sharing and thorough testing of data is always a component of an audit. If there are ways that we can mutually advance this goal, we look forward to this effort.”

Bump’s audit, which covered a 2½-year period and was released earlier this week, found a total of 1,164 people who continued to receive welfare benefits for periods of six months to up to 27 months after they died, totaling nearly $2.4 million in payments.

Polanowicz also disputed claims that electronic benefits transfer (EBT) cards were not kept in secure locations. He said more than half of those were located at the agency’s Worcester office.

He said the office was flooded in July and was forced to temporarily relocate its storage. He said the cards were kept in a safe and the area where the cards were held was patrolled by security officials.

Polanowicz conceded that while “one case of an individual fraudulently receiving benefits is one case too many,” he said he has concerns about the scope of the claims included in Bump’s report.

“In light of the inaccuracies found with the guardianship cases you provided DTA, I am again requesting the complete set of cases cited in your audit,” he wrote. “If your team requires assistance in confirming the validity of these cases, DTA stands ready to help.”

Polanowicz said that the welfare agency is hiring new “program integrity staff” to help investigate fraud, waste and abuse.

He also said if there are errors found in the audit, “I trust the audit results would be adjusted accordingly” to reflect those changes.

Copyright 2013 The Associated Press.

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