An eligibility worker for the Connecticut Department of Social Service was arrested recently, accused of stealing the SNAP benefits he oversees, and the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters investigated and found this was not an isolated case. Multiple employees have been investigated for fraud.
A former DSS employee was arrested in April, accused of issuing himself E.B.T. cash benefit cards in other people’s names and stealing nearly $5,000 in government assistance.
Reports the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters obtained said another DSS employee was fired in 2015 for allegedly authorizing cash and SNAP benefits to people she knew, duping the state out about $12,000 in benefits.
The report said she was caught on camera using the benefit cards to withdrawing money from ATMs.
Another DSS employee who was accused of creating benefit accounts and using them himself was fired in 2013. He was prosecuted and ordered to pay the state back more than $11,000.
Although DSS officials said fraud doesn’t happen often, when it does, it costs taxpayers big bucks.
Over the past two years, state officials said $2.3 million was paid out to DSS recipients based on fraud and they are trying to recoup that money. However, this issue is separate from the DSS employee theft.
DSS spokesperson David Dearborn declined to discuss the details of specific fraud cases and said they take all fraud seriously.
“The cases that you are reporting on are isolated cases they do not typify our employees. They do not typify state government or state employees,” Dearborn said.
But, this is not the first time the state has had problems with employees being accused of defrauding the system.
In 2011, 97 state employees from various agencies were fired for fraudulently getting SNAP benefits after Hurricane Irene, even though they made well over the income requirements.
All but three were able to get their jobs back.
We asked Dearborn what protocols are in place to prevent and catch fraud by DSS workers and how many have been investigated for fraud.
“I don’t have that information,” Dearborn responded.
We also asked how many per year to they look at to see if fraud occurred.
“I don’t have that information either,” Dearborn responded.
“It’s always loopholes to something,” a recent DSS employee explained. “It’s just you having the brains to figure it out.”
The woman asked us to conceal her identity, but told the Troubleshooters the Eligibility Service workers mostly work autonomously. When they a get a case, they approve and issue benefits themselves and don’t need any approval from a supervisor to do it.
But there are some checks and balances.
“We do have quality assurance investigators who monitor cases. That is correct,” Dearborn explained. “They do it on a random basis.”
We pressed for more specifics on what protocols are in place to prevent employee theft and Dearborn declined to elaborate.
Dearborn said that overall, the Department of Social Services has conducted 5,000 fraud investigations involving clients over nearly two years. However, he did not say how many investigations were conducted on employees.
Thea Kaiser, a SNAP benefit recipient who is unemployed and has small child to feed, said she desperately needs the food money she received applying to the Department of Social Services and it struck a nerve when she heard that a DSS employee was accused of stealing SNAP and cash assistance.
“It’s not right because it’s cutting down on people that actually really need it,” she said.