Former State Senate President Billy Bulger used to joke that, when he died, he wanted to be buried at St. Augustine's because he could still remain politically active. Now, thanks to State Auditor Suzanne Bump and Tuesday's report on fraud and abuse in the state's welfare system, we know that there are other forms of life after death. In fact, over the last couple of years, the state's Department of Transitional Assistance has provided benefits to 1164 dead people.
The DTA also made life easier for a bunch of living ineligibles. One hundred forty-seven thousand replacement EBT (electronic benefits cards) went to 9846 people, with some individuals getting 30 or more replacement cards. Wouldn't you think that when one person was issued 127 replacement cards, some bureaucrat would have noticed? Some cards were used in Alaska, Hawaii, Florida and Las Vegas. Doesn't that make hardworking taxpayers feel good, that they're financing some freeloaders' vacationing lifestyles?
All told, the audit report suggests some $18 million in "questionable" payments between July 2010 and December 2012. With all the electronic tracking done on people these days (to a fault in many cases), wouldn't you think state bureaucrats could do more cross-checking? Apparently, interim director Stacey Monahan of the Department of Transitional Assistance (formerly the welfare department) maintains the agency has already instituted some procedural reforms. Monahan correctly said that even one dollar lost to fraud is too much. But if you read the reported, posted online, note that on pages 16 & 17, certain reforms claimed to have been put in place have not, in fact, been followed.
State law mandates that audits be done every three years. But Bump told me they can go back to DTA in six months and, while not doing an actual audit, take the measure of how well the agency is implementing the audit's recommendations.
Two additional observations. 1) Bump has comported herself well this week, coolly projecting fact-based competence, and not grandstanding. (She says she has always seen the mission of the auditor's office to make government programs better not to bring them down.) 2) Governor Patrick has been AWOL, whereas he should have been expressing outrage and holding the bureaucracy responsibility for setting the system straight.
The total lack of accountability is not just about the unfairness to hard-working taxpayers, which is real. Undermining support for the system and diverting millions of dollars to fraud and abuse hurts those who have legitimate needs for income and food assistance, and it feeds the kinds of welfare recipient stereotypes we haven't seen seen the Reagan administration. The urgency to clean up the mess is a no-brainer.
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