Irene fraud costs 42 state employees their jobs

The state has fired 27 employees accused of improperly obtaining disaster benefits after Tropical Storm Irene, and another 15 either resigned or retired as they faced disciplinary hearings, the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday.

The scope of the inquiry has expanded, with another 240 recipients of disaster aid having been identified as state employees, bringing to 1,053 the number of state employees to benefit from the emergency aid program.

“When we announced this investigation, we said that allegations of fraud by state employees would not be tolerated,” Malloy said. “While this is certainly not something anyone should take joy in, the people of Connecticut should know we are serious about running a government that honestly serves them.”

It was not immediately clear Monday how many of the 240 other employees recently identified as aid recipients were suspected of being ineligible. In December, Malloy said that 800 state employees had obtained the aid under the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or D-SNAP.

But his office updated the total for the first time Monday, saying it now stands at 1,053 of approximately 23,000 applicants, or just under 5 percent. The majority were entitled to the aid, with 685 cleared of wrongdoing and 128 referred for administrative review.

The application for the federal aid, which is administered by the state Department of Social Services, asked for income information, but it did not require employer information.

“We derived the initial state employee recipient list by matching Social Security numbers. State auditors, who have access to a different database and searched for different criteria, helped us to identify a couple hundred additional individuals who have some employment relationship with the state and who also received benefits from the program,” said Andrew Doba, a spokesman for Malloy.

All the dismissed employees still could potentially face criminal charges, the governor’s office said.

“We’ve said all along that we were working with our partners at the state and federal level, and now we’re seeing positive results for our taxpayers,” Malloy said in a statement. “We will continue with this investigation until we have taken appropriate action against any employee that knowingly defrauded this federal program.”

The governor’s office had no information on a review of the aid given out to non-state employees.

“We are approaching this from the standpoint of an employer. We’ve been dealing with the situation of state employees first,” Doba said.

Benefits were issued through ATM-style debit cards for the purchase of approved food items at grocery stores. The program was designed to quickly distribute aid, getting the cards in the hands of recipients within 72 hours. Benefits ranged from $200 for a single adult to $1,202 for a family of four.

Qualified losses included lost wages and expenses for temporary shelter, emergency repairs and health care due to the storm that destroyed or significantly damaged hundreds of homes.

D-SNAP was intended for residents who were not already receiving regular benefits under SNAP, the federal program that provides an updated version of food stamps. The program was described as intended for low-income residents. But based on the eligible income ranges, some state employees could have legitimately qualified, depending on household size.

The maximum monthly “take-home income and liquid assets” for the covered 30-day period was $2,186 for a single adult, $2,847 for a household of two, $3,272 for three, $3,859 for four, $4,245 for five, $4,753 for six, $5,116 for seven and $5,479 for eight.

DSNAP form

The portion of the D-SNAP form that asked for income.