(Updated 3:51 p.m.) Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Wednesday afternoon that his administration will be handing over a list of 15 employees who it believes may have committed fraud by misreporting their incomes, and in one case claiming a deceased relative lived in their house, to get post-Irene benefits.
“Based on my administration’s investigation, it appears clear that the abuses of public trust involved go beyond simply lying about income,” Malloy said in statement. “In some instances, people lied about assets under their control or even listed a deceased relative as living in the household. Given the information known to us, these were not oversights or honest mistakes. This was outright fraud, and it will not stand.”
As a result of the Department of Social Services’ initial review of applications, “they have referred 15 of them to commissioners for administrative hearings pursuant to procedures established by law and relevant contracts,” he said.
“We are not waiting for any type of state of federal prosecution before we take administrative action,” said Andrew McDonald, Malloy’s chief legal counsel.
Malloy has promised that the employees who committed fraud would be terminated from state service. He didn’t advocate for the revocation of their pensions, which is possible under a 2008 state law. The names of the workers and which departments they work in were not shared with the media.
The state was in charge of administering $12.4 million in D-SNAP, the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program funded by the federal government after Tropical Storm Irene.
Malloy revealed on Sunday that some of the 800 state employees who applied for the program didn’t qualify for it based on their income and may have fraudulently received benefits.
“If that proves to be the case, we will take steps earnestly, quickly, swiftly, and severely,” Malloy said.
McDonald said the list will be shared with state and federal prosecutors if they ask for it.
Earlier this week a spokesperson for the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the agency that funds the program, said it worked because the state is responsible for pursuing recipient fraud. And Malloy said that’s exactly what happened. As soon as the problem was discovered it was shared with the media.
But Malloy said it’s his goal to increase response time to this type fraud.
The governor opined it’s possible the incidents could have been caught sooner if the Department of Social Services, the agency that administered the benefits, was not operating with outdated technology.
“That’s a department that oversees somewhere between 16 and 18 percent of total expenditures operating on an IT platform that has the effective date of 1989 and which is not loaded properly to help discern, pick up and identify corruption and fraud,” he said.
Overhauling DSS should be the state’s top infrastructure priority, Malloy said. He said he was proud of the way Department of Social Services Commissioner Roderick Bremby was conducting himself.
However, he said it was an embarrassment for Connecticut that people who work for the state would abuse a program designed to provide relief to people who have suffered losses. The governor said he expected the list of names to be released to both state and federal prosecutors by the end of the day Wednesday.
According to federal guidelines, someone applying for the benefits must provide verification of their identity, residency and loss or inaccessibility of income where possible. State agencies must also verify household composition and food loss if questionable.
Malloy said he suspected some people collecting the benefits did not fully disclose their income and claimed dependents or other people living in homes that were not actually living there at the time.
Malloy acknowledged that people other than state employees likely abused the program but said he is focusing on state workers for the time being.
“We’re concentrating on state employees because it’s not only having broken the law, but it’s this violation of the trust,” he said.
Larry Dorman, spokesman for AFSCME Council 4, said the union takes the allegations of fraud seriously but said “the focus should be on fraud, period,” rather than just state employees.
“I think anyone who knowingly defrauded the SNAP program, whether they were state employees or not, should be held accountable,” he said. “Hard-working dedicated state employees are the ones working to uncover the incidents of fraud.”
Dorman said the allegations highlight the need for more funding to DSS’s fraud investigations division.
On Tuesday, WTNH reported that an unnamed source within DSS’s Fraud Division said the agency has been ignoring fraud for years due to staffing shortages. After Irene employees were instructed to approve everyone who applied for benefits after Irene, that person said.
Malloy said he was concerned by the report and encouraged anyone with information about fraud to come forward and take advantage of the state’s Whistleblower protections.
“I can assure that my administration will take those kinds of reports very seriously. They will be investigated,” he said.