By Rebecca Keister
PBN Staff Writer
(Updated, 4:14 p.m.)
PROVIDENCE – Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee and his administration said Wednesday that eliminating public assistance fraud is an ongoing effort that requires aggressive collaboration between state departments and agencies.
The governor held a press conference at the statehouse to release a redacted version the “Rhode Island Health and Human Services Waste and Fraud Project” report issued in January by Simpatico Software Services on waste and fraud in the state’s welfare programs.
“It really is an ongoing effort in the ABCs of a good governor. This [report] is going to be useful in this fight,” Chafee said.
Chafee’s administration began work on combating waste, fraud, and abuse in health and human services in 2011, he said.
The 16-page report identified problems within the state’s welfare programs, including retailers purchasing EBT cards, incomplete reporting of assets from Section 8 housing recipients, and the cashing of food stamps issued to 60 incarcerated people.
Chafee had been publicly criticized for refusing before Wednesday to release the report. He said at the press conference he would have preferred to keep the report private, because fraud detection is an ongoing focus for his administration.
He was pressed repeatedly at the press conference on why he had waited to release the report, which has blacked out some specific retail stores and other organizations potentially guilty of fraudulent practices, and pointed more than once to a paragraph within the report that highlights the expectation of law enforcement action on some investigative findings.
“I would have preferred to do this without the scrutiny and visibility of the wrong doers,” Chaffee said. “I don’t want to minimize the work. It’s another tool we’ve been using.”
The report also revealed the state overpays more than $4.5 million for dental services provided by Community Health Centers and that many individuals were receiving EBT benefits after their deaths and that those benefits were being used.
Work on the report findings will continue.
For example, Chafee’s administration has not thoroughly examined how food stamps were issued or used and some - or all – potentially could be attributed to either prisoners in jail for less than 30 days who are allowed to still use the food stamps or to prisoners with households whose benefits were redirected.
Chafee’s administration also said the report provided information on retailers it can work with.
The governor also has outlined four new bills that would help reduce waste and fraud in the welfare system: to establish a program integrity division within the Office of Health and Human Services; to require the Office of Management and Budget to map processes regarding enrollment and funding of Medicaid and public assistance programs; to prohibit use of EBT cards at certain places, including liquor stores, casinos, and gambling facilities; and to allow any state agency to share information with another state agency under a memorandum of understanding.