Boston Herald - Red-faced state officials admitted last night they are trying to find as many as 19,000 missing welfare recipients -- after the controversial taxpayer-funded voter registration pitches the state mailed to their addresses last summer were sent back marked "Return to sender, address unknown."
The Department of Transitional Assistance contacted 477,000 welfare recipients who were on their books from June 1, 2011, to May 31, 2012, after settling a voter-rights lawsuit brought by Democratic-leaning activist groups that demanded an aggressive voter information effort by the state. That $274,000 push by DTA resulted in 31,000 new voter registrations -- but revealed an alarming number of welfare recipients whose residency in Massachusetts can't be confirmed.
"DTA is in the process of contacting those clients for which a forwarding address was provided to verify their addresses, as a change of address might impact their eligibility," a statement from the agency said.
DTA critics expressed astonishment at the agency's faulty address records -- which were only uncovered by accident -- saying it's further evidence that the electronic benefits system sorely needs reform.
"Wow," said state Rep. Shaunna O'Connell, R-Taunton, upon hearing of the number of returned mailings.
"The fact that 19,000 of these came back undeliverable tells me DTA has no idea where these people live, obviously, and is not doing the background checks they should be doing," O'Connell said.
"It goes to show this program is just fraught with fraud and abuse and needs a complete overhaul," said O'Connell, who has made her name on Beacon Hill as a leading legislator for welfare reform.
It was not clear last night how many of the missing clients have moved out of state or are otherwise no longer eligible to receive Massachusetts benefits.
DTA spokesman Alec Loftus said he did not know how many clients left forwarding addresses, and could not say what the state is doing to locate those who did not leave forwarding addresses, while their benefits continued to be paid through direct deposit to bank accounts.
Those recipients who did leave forwarding addresses but failed to respond to subsequent letters seeking confirmation were stripped of their benefits, Loftus said. Those actions took place last summer, but were only revealed late yesterday in response to a Herald request. Loftus could not say how many clients have been booted from the system as a result of the address snafu.
However, Loftus said last night the address database that was used in the mailings may have also "likely included many former clients who are no longer receiving benefits and may have moved to a new address, as well as applicants who were denied benefits."
Gov. Deval Patrick's office declined to comment.
http://bostonherald.com/news_opinion/local_coverage/2013/01/welfare_recipients _ percentE2 percent80 percent98missing percentE2 percent80 percent99
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