Gov. Dannel P. Malloy disclosed Sunday that 800 state employees obtained federal disaster aid through the state after Tropical Storm Irene, with an undisclosed number suspected of gaining the assistance through fraud.
State and federal prosecutors were notified Friday, he said.
At an abruptly called news conference at the Capitol, Malloy said that staff at the Department of Social Services spotted the names of “more than a few” state employees who appeared to obtain aid without fully disclosing their income.
Many, if not most, of the employees undoubtedly got the aid legitimately, Malloy said.
The suspected fraud was committed by employees who appear to have underreported their income in applications for the aid, not by any DSS workers directly involved in administering the program or approving applications, officials said.
“I am making this announcement because we believe fraud has been perpetrated by a number of individuals,” said Malloy, who was accompanied at the 10-minute press conference by Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and Roderick Bremby, the commissioner of social services.
Any findings of fraud by an employee will mean termination and prosecution, Malloy said.
“If I look angry, it is because I am,” Malloy said, stepping to a lectern outside his office at the state Capitol.
Wyman said, “If any of these state employees are indeed guilty I am disappointed beyond words.”
The federal aid came through the federal Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known as “D-SNAP.”
At 9:41 a.m., the governor’s press office distributed a terse notice of a news conference by email. It offered no details of the subject matter, saying only that Malloy would”make an announcement.” Based on a source, The Mirror reported the suspected fraud Sunday morning.
Malloy said he held the rare Sunday press conference, because he is about to depart for a trip the Democratic Governors Association meeting in Los Angeles and he wanted to break the news.
“If I didn’t do that …someone might say I am not personally taking this seriously. I have been taking this seriously since it came to my attention,” Malloy said. “I decided to do it myself.”
Malloy said the apparent fraud was discovered by DSS staff.
“Rod’s team was doing their job, and doing the review they are required to do, they came across some names that looked familiar,” Malloy said. “That gave rise to Rod doing more work on it.”
One source said DSS staff was stunned to see the names of some highly paid state managers on the list of recipients, prompting a more detailed review. The 800 employees who got the disaster aid appears to be a disproportionately high percentage of the 23,000 applicants.
The D-SNAP benefits became available in Connecticut for the first time after President Obama granted Malloy’s request for disaster assistance in all eight counties.
Benefits were issued through ATM-style debit cards for the purchase of approved food items at grocery stores. The program is designed to quickly distribute aid, getting the cards in the hands of recipients within 72 hours.
Eligible households were to receive food aid ranging from $200 for a single adult to $1,202 for a family of eight. Applicants had to identify uninsured disaster losses incurred from Aug. 27 to Sept. 25.
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, it appears possible for some state employees to have legitimately qualified, depending on household size.
According to a press release announcing the program Sept. 19, 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.
“We need to be very clear up front about the federal requirements for this special form of assistance to residents impacted by Tropical Storm Irene,” Bremby said in announcing the program in September.
If fraud was detected, the episode will be an unwelcome milestone in the Malloy administration, which is closing out its first year in office.