Whispers that more state employees had been accused of food stamp fraud bubbled to the surface at the end of last week, but Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office wasn’t able to confirm the rumors until Monday when it put out a statement saying 42 state employees left state service as a result of the fraud investigation.
A total of 27 have been dismissed, 5 resigned, and 10 opted to retire. There is still the potential for criminal charges against all 42 individuals.
At last count in January, four employees had been fired and four had opted to retire as a result of the ongoing investigation. At that time only 90 state employees were still under investigation.
And despite being told about 800 state employees had applied for the assistance following Tropical Storm Irene, more than 1,053 of the 23,000 applicants worked for the state. The revised number of applications is the result of the Department of Social Services working with state auditors, who utilized different criteria and a different database to determine the pool of state employees that applied for the benefits.
“When we announced this investigation, we said that allegations of fraud by state employees would not be tolerated,” Malloy said in a statement. “While this is certainly not something anyone should take joy in, the people of Connecticut should know we are serious about running a government that honestly serves them.”
Meanwhile, an additional 240 applications have been flagged by the Department of Social Services and will be sent the Office of Labor Relations for review.
Malloy’s Chief Legal Counsel Andrew McDonald has said the state’s Freedom of Information statutes would normally require the state to disclose the names of the departed employees, but statutes governing the privacy of food stamp applicants prohibit the state from releasing the information.
A total of 23,726 households and 74,230 individuals received the federal disaster assistance from the state following Tropical Storm Irene.
So far, 685 state employees have been cleared of any wrongdoing and 128 were referred for administrative review, according to the administration.
The state was in charged of administering the federal $12.4 million program and asked for income information, but not employer information which could explain why the number of state employees has grown over the past two months.
The program funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture is intended to get food assistance to those in need as quickly as possible following a disaster.
The program distributed $200 to $1,200 per family in benefits on ATM-like debit cards to those who met certain income guidelines.
Take-home income and liquid assets for the period from Aug. 27 to Sept. 25 could not exceed $2,186 for a single person; $2,847 for a household of two; $3,272 for a household of three; $3,859 for a household of four; $4,254 for a household of five; $4,753 for a household of six; $5,116 for a household of seven; and $5,479 for a household of eight.
Those income guidelines and how Department of Social Services workers calculated them has lead to the firing of some state employees, Rich Rochlin, an attorney who now represents 30 of the state employees said.
“No matter what arguments we make the administration seems intent to chop off the heads of these employees,” Rochlin said. “Many are just two checks away from financial ruin.”
Rochlin said of his 30 clients 15 have been fired, two have been suspended and the rest are in various stages of the “gauntlet.”
He said many of his clients didn’t know what to put down on the form and so they asked the DSS worker to help them calculate it to see if they qualified. He said in most cases the DSS worker is refusing to admit they did anything wrong and his clients are getting fired because the administration believes the DSS worker over them. In some cases his clients never even saw what the DSS worker wrote down on the form.
“The presumption is they’re lying,” Rochlin said Monday.
“Even someone with a DUI gets a drivers permit so they can get to work and continue earning money. That’s not what’s happening here,” he said.
Malloy’s office said it will have additional information regarding the status of the investigation in the coming days.