The findings suggest the state gave away $1.8 million in benefits to ineligible Vermonters.
DCF investigates fraud allegations in its 3SquaresVT and Reach Up programs, but it’s short term welfare programs, not so much.
“It’s s not uncommon for beneficiaries who are receiving benefits from 3SquaresVT to also receive benefits from another two programs that are not typically investigated, so the $1.8 million figure is probably low,” says State Auditor, Doug Hoffer.
He acknowledges it’s not always easy to investigate very short term welfare programs, such as the General Assistance program.
“It’s if you have an emergency, a real emergency, you and your kids need something immediately for any number of legitimate reasons, so its often a one shot exchange.”
Low income Vermonters received about $632 million in welfare benefits over a three and a half year period beginning in January 2013.
DCF’s Economic Service’s Division says $1.8 million was given to ineligible recipients.
“That could be someone who was completely not entitled to it, but more likely it was someone who didn’t give us some information intentionally and that they would have been entitled to a smaller benefit,” says Sean Brown, Deputy Commissioner for DCF’s Economic Services Division.
DCF says benefit eligibility is primarily based on two thresholds, household number and household income.
“Normally where we would see an issue is when someone didn’t report a new job or certain type of income they’re now receiving or someone moved into their household or left their household,” says Brown.
He says the state vets applicants thoroughly.
“We are required to do for many of our interviews in-person and have very strict verification requirements,” says Brown.
The report reviewed several cases where a client signed a repayment agreement. In one case, a client was overpaid $23,000 in benefits and allowed to pay it back over 75 years. That comes out to about $25 a month, an “unrealistic period of time,” according to the report.
Brown says recollecting ineligible payments is not as easy as it sounds because many of the programs serve very low income Vermonters and makes their ability to pay “very limited.”
“These are people who are struggling and if we push too hard it could affect the kids, and I’m very sympathetic, however there has to be some disincentive, some meaningful way to get the message out,” says Hoffer.
He says the state is not doing all it can to recollect improper payments. He suggests DCF reduce monthly benefits for recipients who were over paid or turn to “Tax Refund Offset.”
“So if your family files and you have a refund coming, the state can capture it, or if you have earned income tax credit money coming, we can capture a portion of that.”
The state says it did agree with area of improvements in fraud reporting and has already taken steps to streamline the system.
In the 2015 fiscal year, the Department for Children and Families Economic Services Division gave out more than $100 million in benefits in four of its programs that help low income Vermonters.