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State Auditor: Prisoners, Dead People Got Food Stamps and Welfare Benefits

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State prison inmates and dead people received food stamps and welfare benefits paid out by the Arizona government, according to state auditors.

The Department of Economic Security's Division of Benefits and Medical Eligibility is tasked with assessing eligibility of Arizonans for the federal programs, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families, which resulted in $1.75 billion in payments statewide in 2012.

However, some of those payments should not have been sent out, as auditors found that benefits were sent to prisoners and the dead in some cases.

See also:
-Survey: 21 Percent of Arizonans Struggle to Afford Food

The audit didn't look into the total extent that either inmates or dead people were receiving benefits.

For example, auditors matched 13,920 names of state prison inmates with information matching people participating in the TANF or SNAP programs. Auditors took a closer look at 25 of those cases.

"One participant received benefits for 48 days totaling $200 during incarceration at the DOC, and the Division stopped the participant's benefits when it received notification of an active warrant for the participant from the Department of Economic Security's Office of Special Investigations," the report states. "However, the Division did not attempt to recover the overpayments."

Three of the 25 apparently were getting benefits for some or all the time that they were in prison, but auditors couldn't discern whether the inmates were actually receiving the benefits or whether identity theft was involved.

The other 21 were found to have received benefits only while they were not incarcerated.

According to the auditors, the Division of Benefits and Medical Eligibility has access to Maricopa County jail rolls, but not other counties or the state. So, only Maricopa County jail inmates get their benefits immediately cut off. The auditors recommended that the division use state prison and other county data to curtail that problem.

Again, the auditors don't know the extent of this problem, but in the 25 randomly selected cases, 16 percent of those involved payments that shouldn't have been made.

As for the dead, auditors took another sample, this time selecting 60 cases where it appeared that payments were authorized after a person's death. They were able to verify that 11 of them had received payments after their death, and nearly $1,000 was actually spent from the EBT cards in seven of those cases.

In the other 49 cases examined, no inappropriate payments were made. The auditors weren't able to figure out why these payments were made, but they didn't last for long, in any case, because a dead person can't apply for a renewal of their benefits.

The auditors also checked out a few other ways in which fraud or improper payments could occur, including the use of false Social Security numbers, large or out-of-state purchases, or state employees authorizing too much money for the benefits. None of those appeared to be issues.

As an aside, the report also mentioned new federal legislation that prohibits TANF program EBT cards from being used at liquor stores, strip clubs, casinos, and a few other places. The auditors only found such transactions at liquor stores in Arizona: 1,447 such transactions at "what appeared to be liquor stores," totaling $43,092.

Got a tip? Send it to: Matthew Hendley.

Follow Valley Fever on Twitter at @ValleyFeverPHX.
Follow Matthew Hendley at @MatthewHendley.

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