A federal program intended to help low-income citizens get access to food following a natural disaster appears to be well intended, but poorly run. At least that is the conclusion we take away after reading a new analysis of how the state Department of Social Services administered the program here in Connecticut after Tropical Storm Irene.
Federal authorities authorized Connecticut to implement the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP) when Irene caused prolonged power outages, some lasting a week or more. Long lines greeted state social workers at distribution centers across the state.
More than 25,000 households applied for assistance, and the 23,000 awarded emergency food debit cards received $12.5 million in aid, according to the report by state auditors Robert Ward and John Geragosian. Our conclusion is that a good chunk of that money was likely given to people who did not meet the income guidelines, though it is impossible to verify how many and how much.
In following the federal guidelines, social service workers were not required to demand income verification. The auditors reviewed a sampling of the applications and found missing information, unsigned documents, calculation errors and other mistakes.
The auditors recommended that in a future disaster the DSS workers request verification. While in some cases that might be difficult to come by and in such instances aid should not be denied - documentation unavailable from homes destroyed by flooding or earthquakes for example - it would at least put people on notice that the government is checking things out, giving them some pause about fudging numbers.
The program became infamous in Connecticut when the Malloy administration identified 913 state workers who had sought aid (the auditors found another 131). The state later dismissed or sought the retirement and resignation of 103 state employees for falsifying information. An arbitrator later ordered the rehiring of 80 of them, calling the penalties too harsh, and instead invoked suspensions.
We doubt Connecticut is the only state where these problems occurred. The U.S. Food and Nutrition Services needs to take a hard look at how to improve this program and prevent fraud.