News From The Statehouse
By Tony McConkey
Delegate, District 33A
Once again, Maryland is number one. For the second year in a row, our state leads the nation in food stamp fraud.
It is so bad that the U.S. Department of Agriculture fined the state $742,238 in 2010 and $1,474,999 in 2011. Marylands food stamp program, known officially as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), is an $837-million program that is administered by the Maryland Family Investment Administration (FIA).
The FIA also administers $141 million to the Temporary Cash Assistance Program (TCA) and $150 million to Maryland Energy Assistance Program (MEAP).
A recent state audit disclosed that in 28,700 cases the recipients social security number was either missing or unverified and 2,600 of those cases had been outstanding for over a year without resolution. Other food stamp cases lacking proper documentation, according to the official audit, required between 107 and 256 days to correct.
With respect to home energy assistance, the audit specifically noted that Maryland does not have a procedure to validate social security numbers, check death records, check for incarcerated individuals, or verify reported income with outside sources. With such limited means of validation, it sounds like money is being doled out on the honor system.
The department heads say they are working to address the problem, but continually deny the problems severity. Over the course of several hearings, I have continually pressed the departments and I am frustrated more is not being done. A request by the auditors to do a follow-up review was not granted and the legislature appears unlikely to force the departments to act.
Maybe the lack of urgency is because much of the money is federal funds which are often not treated as real money in Annapolis. Alternatively, some may be thinking in todays economy we should be more generous in handing out money to the downtrodden.
To both I would reply that money even federal money is limited and for each ineligible recipient receiving money, money is being taken from others who are more worthy.
With so little adherence to documentation, applications should theoretically speed through the department. But while the department is failing to protect the taxpayer, the department is failing our neediest citizens, prompting a lawsuit that is still outstanding.
In 2009, a lawsuit was filed, claiming that the department violated federal and state law by failing to process applications and determine eligibility within the required 30-day time frame for food stamps and TCA benefits. The court ordered the department to achieve full compliance within a year, which they say has been achieved.
Pressure to speed up applications can only make the problems of fraud and abuse worse without a new commitment from the governor. Problems in Marylands welfare programs can be more fully viewed at the website for the Office of Legislative Audits at www.ola.state.md.us.
Senator Tony McConkey represents Severna Park in the Maryland House of Delegates. Members of the community may contact him at his office at 410-841-3406 or email him at McConkey@Writeme.com.