State audit investigation finds millions of dollars in public assistance fraud

I-Team

CHICOPEE, Mass. (WWLP) – A recent state auditor investigation identified millions of dollars in public assistance fraud during the last fiscal year.

22News found out this has become a serious problem in our area. Your tax dollars support public benefit programs, like SNAP and Mass Health, which are lifelines for families in need.

More than 50 million Americans participate in public health benefits programs. But last year the State Auditor’s Bureau of Investigations (BSI) identified nearly $12 million in public assistance fraud.

Eric Downing told 22News, “I’ve had public assistance in my life and there are people out there that are in need, and for the people to take advantage of that, it’s a horrendous act.”

Nearly half of the fraud in the state auditor’s report occurred in programs administered by the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA) and many of the fraud allegations involved individuals not reporting the income they earn from employment. Hampden County had the second-highest number of fraud allegations last year at 310.

The DTA referred more than 3,444 cases to BSI in FY2019, in addition to 1,702 referrals that were outstanding at the start of FY2019. Of the 3,828 investigations completed, 60% (or 2,321) of cases were determined by BSI to have no fraud present.

Tim Dooling is Deputy Auditor and General Counsel for the Office of the State Auditor (OSA). He told 22News, “Yes, it’s a problem for every dollar that’s paid out to a fraudster, that’s a dollar that doesn’t go to a legitimate who is entitled to the public benefit. And BSI is focused on maintaining public trust in these public benefits programs.” Dooling told 22News another common example of fraud is when individuals claim that there is only one parent in the household.

The Massachusetts Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) provided 22News with this statement: “In FY2019, the Department of Transitional Assistance and MassHealth proactively identified and referred approximately 4,600 cases of suspected fraud to the Bureau of Special Investigations for investigation and enforcement. Agencies conduct comprehensive checks to ensure that benefits are received for those who are eligible, and work closely with the Bureau of Special Investigations to identify and address any potential fraud across our programs. Our priority is ensuring that essential benefits are available to the families and individuals who are eligible for them, and nearly all those receiving public assistance use benefits as intended – to meet their family’s basic needs.”

The DTA provides public assistance to 1 out of 9 residents in Massachusetts, including children, the elderly and persons with disabilities. According to the EOHHS, currently there are 454,546 SNAP households, 31,017 Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC) households, and 19,266 Emergency Aid to the Elderly, Disabled and Children (EAEDC) households.

MassHealth provides multiple types of health insurance coverage to 1.8-million residents of Massachusetts. As noted on page 10 of the report, MassHealth made 1,200 referrals to BSI in FY19. On page 14 of the report, the findings show the MassHealth Unit was assigned 419 new cases in FY19, and completed 631. They identified fraud in 400 cases.

The State Auditor’s office relies on public assistance agencies to report fraud. But they also need your help. You can report suspected fraud online or by calling the office directly.

You can read the Auditor’s Bureau of Special Investigations Annual Report here.

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