More than 600 individuals receiving some sort of public assistance through the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare have been found to be living in other states. The discovery comes following an investigation of 1,123 cases that were flagged by the department.
The state now uses electronic benefit transfer (EBT) cards to distribute Cash Assistance, Medical Assistance, and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance (SNAP), which was formerly known as food stamps. The state can track where those ATM-like cards are used. The department then investigated any cardholder who used their EBT card in locations outside of Pennsylvania and its border states continuously in November 2011, December 2011, and January 2012.
The department's review, conducted in February, revealed 653 cases of individuals who were fraudulently collecting Pennsylvania benefits. Most of the accused were said to be living outside of Pennsylvania while collecting benefits and most were collecting SNAP benefits.
"The department's review of out-of-state welfare spending will soon expand to neighboring states and we will conduct targeted reviews anywhere we see an inconsistency," said DPW Secretary Gary Alexander.
The state says it will save taxpayers more than $900,000 over the next 6 month by closing the fraudulent accounts. None of those claiming the benefits have been penalized but DPW spokesperson Anne Bale said some of the cases have been turned over to the Pennsylvania Office of Inspector General.
Bale said the Department plans to dive into accounts where the cards are consistently used in one of the state bordering Pennsylvania. Many public assistants recipients have reason to cross the border to shop but it is suspected that others have moved to other states and are continuing to receive benefits from Pennsylvania.
The investigation came after Pennsylvania Auditor General Jack Wagner in September called for the department to turnover specific transaction information on out-of-state purchases using EBT cards. Wagner was worried that they were being used in places where EBT card use is banned in Pennsylvania such as in casinos and tattoo parlors.