Massachusetts is reaping the rewards of taking steps to crack down on fraud, waste and abuse within the commonwealth’s food benefit program. A story in The Boston Globe states that the success rate has increased due to quadrupling the number of investigators assigned to search out fraud and the use of a new streamlined system to report suspicious activity.
According to the article, more than 14,000 cases of potential fraud or abuse of food benefits had been reported to the commonwealth’s Department of Transitional Assistance in the first 10 months of 2013. This is an increase of 87 percent over the same time period in 2012, due in part to a computer system that makes it easier for case managers to report potential fraud.
The story states that a 2013 audit report revealed evidence that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts disbursed $18 million in “questionable public assistance benefits” in past years including more than 1,160 people who used Social Security numbers of deceased persons. The article also reports the former head of the agency resigned after failing to verify recipient eligibility. The report findings along with the resignation served as important factors in the agency’s decision to make changes to improve its program and put systems in place to prevent fraud, waste and abuse.
The new system allows case managers to flag suspicious instances, including beneficiaries who request multiple replacement benefits cards within a year. (This suggests that the recipient may be selling the cards instead of using it for food.) The new system also allows investigators to analyze beneficiary income to determine if recipients make too much money to qualify for food benefits. Database searches can reveal whether recipients are incarcerated and if they may be receiving benefits from other states. (This will help prevent “double dipping.”)
Even though the commonwealth’s inspector general found that it takes the Massachusetts too long to catch potential fraud (an average of eight months), great strides have been made to make sure that the food benefits are going to those who really need them. According to the article, in June case workers will start cross-checking applicants across 20 databases to make sure recipients are not receiving benefits from another program. (Kudos to Massachusetts for taking these important steps to confirm their suspicions, while preventing further fraud, waste and abuse.)