Audit: Welfare benefits going to dead people

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by CHRIS INGALLS / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @cjingalls

KING5.com

Posted on May 21, 2014 at 11:18 PM

Updated Thursday, May 22 at 4:54 PM

Food stamp benefits continue to be paid to thousands of deceased Washington citizens, according to the state auditor's office.

The audit, which covered Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) records from 2013, found 1,752 food stamp cards that were used to buy food after the recipient had died, costing the state's taxpayers nearly half a million dollars.

The report also found 2,863 people who used the Social Security numbers of deceased people to qualify for welfare benefits, costing taxpayers almost $9 million in 2013 alone.

And more than 8,000 welfare recipients in Washington state were using fake Social Security numbers, the audit found, costing the state $26 million last year.

The money wasted on the dead and the fraudulent claims could have offset cuts to the federally funded food stamp program. Washington state is set to lose $70 million in federal money for the program under the new farm bill –- and that’s on top of cuts that came last fall after parts of the 2009 stimulus bill expired.

State Sen. Andy Hill (R-Redmond) said the findings show that Washington's welfare program is "taking money away from people who really need it."

Three years ago KING 5's "Their Crime, Your Dime" series documented a big problem with food stamp debit card fraud. DSHS has said it fixed those problems with a massive overhaul of its systems.

But Sen. Hill, chairman of the state Senate's powerful Ways and Means Committee, said DSHS isn't working hard enough.

"There's not an urgency to fix the problem.  And it's very frustrating. To see this essentially being flushed away, it has got to be fixed."

Both DSHS and the office of Washington State Auditor Troy Kelley refused to comment to KING 5, saying the audit is not finalized yet.

The figures have been presented to DSHS, according to a spokesperson, to review for their accuracy.

The auditor’s office says the final report is expected in August.

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