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Auditors call for changes in food stamp program

Thursday, 11 Oct 2012 | 2:24 PM ET

HARTFORD, Conn. -- State auditors in Connecticut called for changes Thursday in an emergency food stamp program at the center of a fraud scandal involving state employees, saying more vigilant caseworkers could have reduced the amount of aid handed out to ineligible applicants.

The Auditors for Public Accounts made a series of recommendations for better management of aid applications after looking into the state's distribution of benefits in the aftermath of Hurricane Irene, which hit Connecticut as a tropical storm in August 2011.

More than 1,000 state employees were among the 24,000 people who received the aid under the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP, which awarded between $200 and $1,200 to people affected by the storm. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy dismissed 103 workers following an investigation into claims that aid went to ineligible state employees, but the administration said in June that 40 of them had been reinstated.

The commissioner of the state's Department of Social Services, Roderick Bremby, said it already has proposed tougher oversight measures to the federal government. He said his agency and auditors are both seeking tougher measures to verify applicants' information.

"We appreciate the review by the state Auditors of Public Accounts to help make the D-SNAP process stronger, should Connecticut need it in the future," Bremby said.

One of the auditors' recommendations is that DSS workers involved in taking aid applications be required to request verification of income.

"If DSS caseworkers had requested verification of assets from all D-SNAP applicants, the number of approved cases which were later determined to be ineligible, and the amount of fraud associated with the program could potentially have been lessened," the auditors' report said.

A review of about 200 sample cases by the auditors found errors in the eligibility determinations as well as the fraud investigations by the DSS. Among other problems, it found eight applications were not signed by a DSS case worker, and three applicants did not report any disaster-related expenses.

The auditors recommended that DSS create an application consistent with D-SNAP guidelines and consider requiring approval from a second caseworker for each application.