Welfare benefits to the dead? Auditor and DPW secretary disagree - abc27 WHTM

Welfare benefits to the dead? Auditor and DPW secretary disagree

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In the Philadelphia-based movie, The Sixth Sense, a little boy hauntingly tells Bruce Willis, "I see dead people."

In real life across Pennsylvania, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale just as hauntingly warns taxpayers, "Welfare's paying dead people."

DePasquale called a news conference Tuesday to issue a preliminary report on a full audit that's not due until next year. He said what his auditors found was so alarming he needed to go public.

"We matched $212,000 going on ACCESS cards for people identified as deceased, according their Social Security number," he said.

DePasquale said there were 138 cases of dead people getting welfare benefits.

"Something is wrong when somebody who's had a deceased Social Security number from the 1980's is still having money wired to their card," DePasquale said in what may be the understatement of the year.

Except that it's an overstatement, according to Welfare Secretary Bev Mackereth.

Mackereth said DPW investigated all 138 cases and that only five were found to be fraudulent and turned over to the Office of Inspector General.

Mackereth says half were alive and well and legitimate recipients who simply transposed Social Security numbers.

"There will always be people that abuse or commit fraud within our system," Mackereth said, "but we are working diligently to change that."

DePasquale made several recommendations to tighten the system, including a suggestion that DPW cross-check welfare recipients against Social Security's master dead list.

"That needs to happen yesterday. That needs to happen yesterday," he repeated twice for emphasis.

DePasquale correctly noted that every dollar in lean budget times is crucial and that in polarized Harrisburg everyone agrees that benefits should only go to those who need and deserve them.

I asked Mackereth what she says to taxpayers who see the headline "Dead People Getting Welfare Benefits?"

"I don't think that should be the headline, Dennis. That should not be the headline when we're talking about five case," she said. "There will always be individuals who try to abuse the system."

Mackereth concedes oversight of $2.7 billion in assistance is always a challenge.

"People become ineligible all the time. It is their responsibility - right, wrong or indifferent - to let us know if they are no longer eligible or if they get a job. We cannot, nor would the taxpayers of Pennsylvania want us to have a person watching every person that's on assistance."

Of course, taxpayers would also like that only the living are getting welfare help.

DePasquale and Mackereth are both from York County and friendly, but there was a heated exchange between the two in a Capitol hallway following the news conference.

The Auditor General feels the Welfare Department didn't rapidly respond to his report, which he sent to DPW in early May.

Mackereth seemed off-put by DePasquale's calling of a news conference before her staff let him know it was only five suspected cases of fraud.

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