Testimony of Stacey Monahan, Interim Commissioner
Department of Transitional Assistance
Joint Hearing of the House and Senate Committees on Ways and Means
March 4, 2013
Thank you Senator Petruccelli, Representative Garballey and members of the Committee for this opportunity to address you today and provide an overview of the Department of Transitional Assistance Fiscal Year 2014 budget.
I am Stacey Monahan, interim Commissioner of the Department of Transitional Assistance. For the last two years, I served as Chief of Staff of the Commonwealth’s largest secretariat, which employs 22,000 people and has a budget of more than $15 billion. As part of this role, I helped oversee our Program Integrity reorganization and worked closely with both the auditor and inspector general on program reviews across our agencies.
I was appointed to this role by Secretary Polanowicz one month ago today. I appreciate the difficult task before this Committee to produce a balanced
budget that best serves the people of the Commonwealth. The Governor’s
FY14 budget proposes new revenues that will support our Department by investing in program integrity, fulfilling legislative mandates, and ensuring that the resources of the Commonwealth are used in an efficient and thoughtful manner.
I know you have read in the press and heard from your constituents reports alleging millions of dollars in overpayments, lax eligibility enforcement, and significant problems with the NVRA mailing. These issues have dominated the public discourse, vilified our clients, and damaged the credibility of the Department.
I was given a mandate from Governor Patrick and Secretary Polanowicz to make necessary changes to fix our policies, procedures and processes and restore trust with the public and with you. It is clear that DTA faces serious challenges that need to be addressed.
That is why I am undertaking a top to bottom review of the agency to ensure that our limited taxpayer resources are being used appropriately and only as intended.
I am working to address the issues identified in the Inspector General’s report, which serves as the blueprint for the action plan I am developing. The plan highlights enhancing Program Integrity, improving staff training, and implementing further EBT reforms.
I am excited about taking on this challenge. I have already visited 10 of our 22 Transitional Assistance offices and plan to visit all of them by the end of March.
At every office, I meet with staff and hear their ideas and concerns. I spend time shadowing the workers, sitting in on interviews and processing casework.
In Brockton, I met a man in his early 50’s who had never been on public assistance before. He had been laid off from his audio installation job at Christmas and had put off applying for benefits because of his shame in asking for help.
His situation was so dire that he qualified for emergency SNAP benefits so that he could get food for his kids before the weekend.
In our Chelsea office, I met with staff members for over an hour who shared with me their concerns with how the Department – and they – are perceived by the public, the press, and legislators.
It is imperative that we enhance Program Integrity efforts and restore public confidence so that our dedicated, compassionate workforce is once again proud to say they work for the Department of Transitional Assistance.
I also heard amazing success stories. One caseworker spoke of how her clients are graduating from nursing school in May. A remarkable story – when I heard that, we brainstormed that we should host a celebration in June to honor all DTA clients who are graduating – whether they are obtaining their GED, an Associates degree or, like in this instance, nursing school. We will be rolling out this recognition in all our offices this June.
This Friday, I am launching a statewide listening tour starting in Fall River to hear concerns directly from the public and gather ideas on how to improve the way we deliver vital services.
Following the tour, we will file a report with the Governor and Legislature summarizing the feedback we receive and putting forth recommendations.
I hope you will join us for these important listening sessions.
As you know, our economy is still rebounding from the Global Recession and many residents need the services that DTA provides as a bridge to stability. Our recipients are your constituents.
DTA serves one in eight people across the Commonwealth; they are the people that you see at your kid’s soccer game or at your senior center.
The benefits provided to our clients are modest and in many cases time limited. For the SNAP program, the average monthly benefit is $200 a month. For the cash assistance benefit, which is only paid to people who are elderly, disabled or parents of small children, it is about $450 per month.
The benefits our clients receive have not kept pace with inflation or cost of living and have not been adjusted in years.
Like many of you, I believe in the mission of this important agency and recognize the need to ensure that only people eligible for benefits receive them.
Rooting out fraud and abuse is a top priority for the Patrick-Murray Administration and for me. Our Program Integrity unit at DTA was established in 2008 and has recovered more then $28 million for taxpayers working with both the state auditor and other authorities.
The Governor has included $4.1 million in his proposed budget to implement EBT reform legislation signed last summer, and we believe these resources are essential to preventing fraud and abuse, blocking card usage at prohibited establishments and increasing investigation and enforcement of SNAP trafficking.
I pledge to you that I am moving the Department forward, enhancing Program Integrity, supporting our workforce, and improving our service delivery.
I am looking forward to building strong and transparent relationships with the Legislature.
Thank you for allowing me to testify today and I am pleased to take your questions.