Christine Stuart photo

Republican lawmakers said Tuesday that $47 million in federal heating oil assistance for the state’s neediest residents is in jeopardy if the state continues to allow undocumented workers to receive it, but it may not be as easy as checking an individuals social security number, Attorney General Richard Blumenthal told a joint legislative committee.

Blumenthal said non-qualified aliens are not eligible to receive federal benefits, but community groups in the state that help distribute it “cannot be required to verify citizenship or immigration status.”

The debate over administering heating oil assistance was prompted last month by a whistlerblower from the Community Action Agencies in New Haven where its alleged that workers falsified social security numbers in order to qualify individuals for the program.

Blumenthal said the law is clear and CAA cannot knowingly accept false information and cannot commit fraud. He said if fraud is suspected then the agency has every right to use an individuals social security number to verify their citizenship or immigration status.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Robert Genuario said if an individual does not qualify for the federal assistance program then the state and the community agencies have the ability to refer the individual to Operation Fuel where they may be able to get assistance.

Blumenthal said its up to lawmakers to decide how to proceed and what form of identification they want to use to detect fraud in the future. “It’s a policy issue, not a legal one,” he said.

Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, said in a press release “This issue is not about illegal immigration. It is about compliance with the federal statutes.”

He said without the $47 million in federal funds 60,000 Connecticut families could go without heating oil assistance this winter. At a press conference before the joint legislative meeting this afternoon, Cafero said depending on what the state decides to adopt as guidelines for administering the funds, it could deprive those who are eligible from getting it.

And don’t think federal officials aren’t watching, Cafero warned. He said as the events in New Haven came to light FBI and Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials began monitoring the legislative response to this issue, even asking for a tape from Connecticut Networks of its first joint legislative meeting on the issue.

The joint legislative meeting was still going this evening and recessed to caucus around 5:30 p.m. It unclear at the moment what proposed amendment the committees will adopt.