(Updated 9:01 p.m.)The number of state employees being investigated for food stamp fraud climbed to 44 Tuesday when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced that 10 new names were forwarded to agency heads for review.
In a press release, Malloy said the ongoing investigation has uncovered dozens of instances where it appears that a state employee may have deliberately lied on the benefit application.
“Everyone is entitled to due process, but if these allegations prove true, it constitutes a serious violation of the public trust. We can and must demand better from public employees,” he said.
Of the 824 state workers who received federal Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits after Tropical Storm Irene, Malloy said 29 have been cleared of wrongdoing by the Department of Social Services.
All of the remaining 751 employees who received benefits will have their applications reviewed but the administration which has been prioritizing the workers who earn the most money, the press release said.
So far, no formal action has been taken against the 44 employees who are still under review, according to Andrew Doba, Malloy’s spokesman.
“We’ve got to respect due process. No definitive or decisive action has been taken at this point,” he said.
Rich Rochlin, a lawyer representing some of the state employees being investigated, said he was pleased to see the Malloy administration “finally mentioning the concept of due process and exoneration in his press releases.”
Rochlin has maintained that recipients of the post-Irene food stamps were required to fill out a form that no one can fill out “without inquiry.”
He alleges that it was DSS eligibility workers who changed his clients’ applications in order to get them to qualify even when they were truthful about their income. On Tuesday he said more problems have continued to come to light.
“While this is ongoing, I continue to learn of rampant problems in the administration of the D-SNAP program ranging from issues related to training, misinformation and the lack of a bona fide identity verification process,” he said in an email. “We look forward to more information concerning those workers who have been unfairly targeted so that they can move on with their lives.”
In addition to its investigation of state employees who may have abused the program, the state will be moving forward with an audit of the applications of non-state workers who received benefits, Doba said. The audit will consist of a percentage pool of applications, he said.
“DSS has the authority to reach out to either a person’s bank or their employer to verify anything that is on the application,” he said.
Depending on what the department finds in the initial audit it can deepen the pool of randomly selected applications, he said. While the state can terminate the employment of its own employees if they are found to have abused the program, it does not have that option when it comes to the general public. Doba said the state may turn information on non-state employees who are suspected of defrauding the program over to prosecutors.