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30,000 Missing EBT Cards in MA, State Auditor Suzanne Bump on Waste Fraud and Abuse in the Massachusetts Welfare System

 “They [DTA officials] should have realized this was a problem because, it had only been a couple of years before when they, in-fact, had employees who were taking blank cards, loading them with benefits and then using the cards themselves, or giving them to friends who were using them.”                                                             ~MA State Auditor Suzanne Bump

AUDIO OF INTERVIEW WITH STATE AUDITOR SUZANNE BUMP
June 1, 2013

What we found [at DTA] was that they were not using all the tools they had, particularly with regard the Social Security database to determine whether folks are who they say they are. They couldn’t account for 30,000 blank EBT cards...

What we found [at DTA] was that they were not using all the tools they had, particularly with regard the Social Security database to determine whether folks are who they say they are. They couldn’t account for 30,000 blank EBT cards…

Massachusetts State Auditor Suzanne Bump’s office released an audit of the Massachusetts Department of Transitional Assistance (the state’s welfare agency).

Among other things, Bump’s audit found 1,164 dead people receiving welfare benefits, and 30,000 blank EBT cards (welfare cash cards) completely unaccounted for.

Instead of embracing Bump’s objective financial report, Governor Patrick has chosen to quibble over some of the more meaningless numbers released in the audit. 

Valley Patriot Publisher Tom Duggan interviewed Auditor Bump on his WCAP radio program called Paying Attention on Saturday June 1st. Here is what Bump had to say about the audit and the controversy. 

What is a State Auditor and what is your function in State Government?

This is an office that has existed since 1850, when the voters passed an initiative calling for an auditor to follow the money being spent by government. What we do when we follow the money [is], we look at state agencies policies and procedures, makes sure they are following their own internal controls, and we test whether they have the sufficient controls in place to prevent the waste, abuse, and fraud of the public’s money.

This office is to uphold the public interests and public trust. We go into [state] agencies and ask, what are your policies and procedures, test whether they are following them, ask whether they are efficient and then we publicize the results.

Trouble at DTA

Over a year ago, we started our audit of the Department of Transitional Assistance. Under our mandate, we have to audit some aspects of every department’s activities on a three years basis. So, it was time to audit DTA and what we focus on, like we did with our Medicaid audit of Mass Health last fall, we focused on their policies of determining eligibility.

So, an applicant comes in, they apply for assistance, what are the policies that case workers follow in order to certify someone is eligible or benefits?

And then, we also look at the controls they had in place over the EBT cards. Are they physically keeping the EBT cards safe so people can’t steal the cards, and work with someone in the agency to load them up with benefits and use them? And are they making use of all the tools they have to track EBT transactions, and find out if benefits are being misused or abused.

Those are three major element of an audit.

What we found [at DTA] was that they were not using all the tools they had, particularly with regard the Social Security database to determine whether folks are who they say they are.

They couldn’t account for 30,000 blank EBT cards.

And in some offices that we visited, they were pretty much out in the open and they weren’t making use of all the technological tools that they have themselves, already at their disposal, to detect suspicious patterns of EBT card use.

What is a blank EBT card

When you apply for benefits and you get approved, the staff at the regional office has the EBT cards there and they are blank, it’s like a blank debit card. They are supposed to be kept in a safe and secure location. Only authorized people are supposed to have access to them. When they get delivered it’s like an armored car delivery, you know, they are supposed to keep track of what comes in and what goes out.

Well, 30,000 [blank EBT] cards couldn’t be accounted for according to their own records.

And in some locations they were not properly stored. You certainly shouldn’t allow applicants to have access to them, but in at least one location they were not only accessible to the general staff, but by applicants who were coming in and going through interviews to find out if they were eligible.

They [DTA officials] should have realized this was a problem because, it had only been a couple of years before when they, in-fact, had employees who were taking blank cards, loading them with benefits and then using the cards themselves, or giving them to friends who were using them.

As recently as 2010 they had people who were prosecuted for this.

So this should have been a control that was upper most in their mind, that needed to be followed up on all the time, and they were lax about that. So that was the deficiency.

Audits Make government work better.

I will tell you, all of the deficiencies that we found in our audit, are things that they [the Department of Transitional Assistance officials] themselves acknowledged before this audit was complete. The final product was put out this week. Months ago, we met with the new commissioner and to tell her what we found. All of the recommendations we made to her was contained in her 100 day plan.

An audit is a snapshot in time it is not a snapshot of what is going on today in that office, but it’s a snapshot of what was going on at the time we did the audit. So, they are already working on fixes and in some cases already completely implemented fixes that we recommended, but this gives you a snapshot of how bad things were before.

Did Deval’s Patrick’s administration embrace this and say ‘we are going to fix it, so more needy people can get benefits?’

It’s very curious to say they did not.

They did not embrace it and say ‘we recognize that, and here’s our plan, and we are fixing these things,’ which would have been an appropriate response. They have a good story to tell. Instead, they are saying all our numbers are wrong.

All we did was match their numbers with the Social Security database, and specifically the list that Social Security provides on whose [Social Security] numbers have been put away because the person is deceased.

When we did the match, what we found was that there were heads of households who: according to Social Security system, were dead. [We also found] dependents whose guardians were getting benefits. Those dependents were either dead or using a dead person’s Social Security number.

So, that suggests that the system that has been used by the agency of just accepting people at their word when they come in and apply, and say this is my Social Security number, rather than checking it against the Social Security database, is not a good practice. It’s a practice that allows for abuse and fraud. And it’s a practice they are changing and fixing.

We didn’t get pushback on the findings that we had [at DTA] when we matched the heads of household and the Social Security death list, they didn’t give us pushback on that.

What they did give us pushback on was, they said that our number of 178 dependents whose Social Security numbers were either dead or people using dead Social Security numbers, they [DTA} said that was wrong, but they wouldn’t allow us to test how it is that they reached their conclusions about it.

And without our ability to test it, we can’t accept it because that’s the whole essence of auditing. You get the data and you have to verify it.

What seemed to have happened with this 178, they reviewed their files months after the snapshot was taken, they had updated their files, but at the time we took that snapshot there were 178.

They had a good story to tell it’s unfortunate that we are in the weeds about details that truly are irrelevant to them fixing the problem, which they are in the process of doing.

Every 3 years we look at some aspect of an agency. Consider how big some of these agencies are and how many facets of their operation they have policies for. So, when we decide what we are going to audit we look at risk. Where is the greatest chance that a system could fail or public money would be wasted or public services would not be delivered the way they are supposed to be?

Then we look also at relevance. What is happening now in that agency that is a public concern. What’s an initiative that hadn’t been examined before?

It [The EBT card system] hadn’t been looked at before, there’s a lot of money involved and that’s why we looked at it.

ILLEGLAS AND NON RESIDENTS GETTING BENEFITS

A few months ago when we did put out or audit of Mass Health, the Medicaid program, we found that in general that, just as in DTA they were relying on people at the stations and they were taking people’s words as to their Social Security numbers, they were also taking their word as to where they lived. So, we found that there were folks who had come in on medical visas from other countries, that were applying for and being approved for Mass Health coverage, as well as folks who didn’t belong here in the first place, as well as those from out of state because they weren’t checking it… even when there was conflicting information in the file that indicated that they were not from Massachusetts.

So, just as in the case of DTA, and this audit as the result of that audit of a few months ago of Mass Health, they are now tracking income through the IRS and The department of Revenue databases. They are asking for verifications of residency. They are reacting in all the appropriate ways to our audit findings, which is the whole point of an audit. It’s not to make agencies look stupid, it’s to make government work better. It’s to uncover problems that could lead to fraud or abuse and fix them so that the tax payers are benefitting and so do the people who desperately, legitimately need these public assistance programs. That’s where my background, as you would say, my bleeding heart liberalism comes in. I want these programs to work. I want people to have confidence in them. I want the public to support them, and I know that public trust gets eroded when problems such as we have found at DTA and at Mass Health, are just left to fester.

 WHO IS ACCOUNTABLE?

First of all, the agency heads are.

I appreciate that people want to lay this directly at the feet of the governor, you can say, just as at my agency that’s where the buck stops. But the reality is, Governor Patrick cannot know about internal controls in every agencies operations. I can tell you having worked for him that he does have high standards and he cares deeply about this.

That said, the folks at DTA apparently didn’t get the message, or they weren’t heeding the message that we have standards in government, and they were not using all of the tools that they had.

He [Governor Patrick] has to rely on their representations of the work being done there and in those bureaucracies … it’s a difficult job. Fraud fighting has to be reinstated as a priority, the new folks in that agency are absolutely doing that. I will leave it to the legislature as to what policies to make, but operationally they are being improved.

 

Tom Duggan

Tom Duggan

Tom Duggan is president and publisher of The Valley Patriot Newspaper in North Andover Massachusetts, an author, host of the Paying Attention Radio Program on WCAP in Lowell, lectures on media bias and police issues, is a former Lawrence School Committeeman, former political director for Mass. Citizens Alliance, and a 1990 Police Survivor. You can email your comments to valleypatriot@aol.com.

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9 Responses to 30,000 Missing EBT Cards in MA, State Auditor Suzanne Bump on Waste Fraud and Abuse in the Massachusetts Welfare System

  1. Billy Bel Reply

    June 2, 2013 at 7:06 AM

    In Revere Mass there is one Revere City Councillor collecting $29,000 a year for is part time city council position. He is allowed to collect several thousands of dllars a year based on longetivity from another position he retired from. How is this double dipping allowed under state law? He retired from the Revere Recreation dept and collects a pensin based on longetivity. Then he gets elected to a part time city council positon and uses the same time to also collect another $6,000 in longetivity payments plus his $23,000 council pay? Please why does not anyone care about this?

    • Cynthia Stead Reply

      June 3, 2013 at 10:32 PM

      Billy – that particular thing actually HAS been addressed. About 6 years ago, the law was changed to disallow municipal time to be credited towards a state pension – but only going forward. So anybody earning municipal time AFTER 2004 won’t be able to use that time towards a state pension, but legally you cannot to back in time and take that away from somebody who already legitimately claimed it. Does nothing to your guy in Revere, but it is stopped going into the future.

  2. Susana Gutierrez, Williams Reply

    June 3, 2013 at 6:24 PM

    Good Luck New England, Merrimack Valley & Lawrencians… you have been witnessing your Democrats at work…LOL- I mean neglecting, your hard earned tax dollars, mis wasting… Hey Deval Patrick, Martha Coackley, Suzanne Bump… have better thing to do, Dinners to go to, hey there alaways goin to have fall guy, to puy byhe blame on, or igtnore matter completely, last resort if it cannot be swept nder the rug, if you know what I mean! The best thing that can happen, in this scenario or the IRS scandal, Lantiguas Corruption issues for you Lawrencians is to STAND up, to your Politicians, speak up,it’s our TAX monies they are wasting, mis spending… DO NOT VOTE FOR NO MORE PUPPETS… THEY ARE ALL A JOKE, FULL OF “BS”!
    Look at how many years, the DTA Lawrence has had to put up with, Recipients disrespecting, commiting FRAUD, reciving benefits while 6-9 months of the yera in the tropical Island of D.R., then coming to get annual checkup at clinics, while your TAXES, pay the out of control exorbant Medical bills…lol
    You are getting played by your own Government. They condone all this iLLEGAL fraud occuring in the Bodegas, selling Domiinican Lottery, as it’s been shown by State Police Investigations & RAIDS in the past two years. They do NOT have assistance from NO other Agencies that are totally responsible for Enforcing overseeing all this out of control FRAUD!

  3. Jerry R Reply

    July 11, 2013 at 3:54 PM

    Do you thing any store that takes the EBT card . Is going to ask to see the Photo .NO they just want there money

  4. Pingback: The Valley Patriot’s 2013 Year in Review – Suzanne Bump, Erin Cox and a Methuen Teen “Terrorist” | The Valley Patriot

  5. marie Reply

    July 10, 2014 at 4:08 PM

    Tom,
    Is there a public official report of the audit of the dta we can access?

  6. Pingback: State Auditor Suzanne Bump on Waste Fraud and Abuse in State Government – Paying Attention Radio (8-23-14) | The Valley Patriot

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  8. DeborahWalsh Reply

    June 10, 2015 at 4:21 PM

    I’ve,
    Been Waiting Ever Since Feb 2015 Otherb People Are Saying I’m A burden And I Need My Stamps Re Instasted They Already Do Haqve An Application And I Have NoService On my Phone I’m a Resident Of Ma, 679 Amherst Road,Unit Three Sunderland Ma I Do BelieveThe Zip is01375, They Do Have All This Information On Me and Still No Stmps IU Need Retro Now Ever Since Feb I’ Not Trying To Be Mean

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