Thousands of dead Pennsylvanians received public assistance benefits

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HARRISBURG, Pa. - An audit of the Department of Human Services found thousands of dollars in state public assistance benefit funds were paid out to recipients who were already deceased, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Thursday.

According to the audit, 2,324 recipients who were already dead received $693,161 in public assistance funds on their EBT accounts between July 2013 and June 2014.

"Not only does DHS continue to put dollars on the cards assigned to individuals who have died, it often fails to detect use of those dollars," DePasquale said at a news conference Thursday.

Digging deeper into some of these recipients, investigators found that benefits paid to deceased recipients were still being used to make purchases.

"In one of the cases we found a cardholder who died on May 1, 2013, continued to receive $200 per month placed on their EBT card through September," he said in a news release. "Then, over a 22-day period in December 2013 and January 2014, nearly $800 in purchases were made with that card."

The Department of Human Services disputed the numbers given by DePasquale, saying its calculations found $331,432 in incorrect payments over the same time period. The department claims it recovered $681,660 from the accounts of the deceased in this audit.

"It was actually some incorrect payments were made, but those amounts were later expunged off the cards due to inactivity, which is not surprising given the folks had passed on," DHS Secretary Ted Dallas said.

Auditors also found that more than $70 million a year in public assistance funds over a three-year period were being spent out-of-state.

During that period, more than $14 million was spent in Florida, and purchases were made in all 50 states, including popular holiday destinations like North Carolina and Hawaii.

"It's probably safe to say that people weren't going to Hawaii to do their grocery shopping," DePasquale said.

But DHS countered that, saying its monitoring system has prevented nearly $27 million in inappropriate purchases since 2012, and said 2.7 percent of EBT purchases are made out-of-state. Taking out the states that border Pennsylvania reduces that figure to 0.6 percent, according to a DHS fact sheet.

"Our goal is zero fraud," Dallas said. "What we're talking about here is really less than .01 percent of all benefits issued."

The Department of Human Services says it has implemented several reforms dating back to the Corbett administration, but has made strides under Governor Tom Wolf.

As a direct result of this audit, DHS now changes how it handles redeterminations in single-person households, deactivating the account once the death notification has been issued, rather than following the federal guideline of waiting for a redetermination.

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