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Audit  Audit of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services—Barriers to Access to Public Benefits

Audit calls for action to address barriers related to transportation, outreach, and issues related to immigration and language that may prevent people from accessing and using WIC benefits. It examined the period of July 1, 2015 through December 31, 2017.

Organization: Office of the State Auditor
Date published: September 9, 2019

Executive Summary

In accordance with Section 12 of Chapter 11 of the Massachusetts General Laws, the Office of the State Auditor (OSA) has conducted a performance audit of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services (EOHHS) for the period July 1, 2015 through December 31, 2017. This audit was initiated based on concerns brought to OSA’s attention by various groups regarding how the Commonwealth’s human-service agencies administer the application process for public benefits. This audit was designed to determine whether there are any barriers deterring or preventing people who are eligible to receive public benefits from accessing those benefits.

In 2004, EOHHS established an Internet portal called the Virtual Gateway (VG) that was designed to provide EOHHS agencies, state-contracted service providers and other community-based organizations, and the general public with online access to health and human-service information, including information about public benefits. The VG was also intended to streamline and standardize the application, eligibility determination, and referral processes for public benefits for consumers. At the time we began our audit work, one system within the VG, called Eos, was used to process applications for public benefits.1 This system was used by the state’s Department of Public Health (DPH) to enroll participants in the federally funded Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC). Therefore, our audit work focused on DPH’s administration of WIC and the identification of barriers inhibiting eligible persons from receiving WIC benefits.

The objectives of this audit were to determine whether there were any barriers affecting eligible persons’ ability to access WIC benefits and whether various state agencies—including the Department of Transitional Assistance (DTA), the Office of Medicaid, and DPH—were sharing information to identify and notify people who were eligible but had not applied for WIC benefits.

Below is a summary of our findings and recommendations, with links to each page listed.

Finding 1

DPH does not ensure that certain information about WIC is available to participants in their native languages.


  1. DPH should assess the resources needed to provide translated versions of shoppers’ lists to WIC participants, attempt to acquire these resources, and then provide the shoppers’ lists in the appropriate languages.
  2. DPH should continue to identify the languages that are most commonly spoken by WIC participants and publish the Massachusetts WIC Approved Food Guide in additional languages as needed.

Finding 2

The Massachusetts WIC website does not list all WIC provider locations or identify all wheelchair-accessible provider locations.


  1. DPH should update its WIC website to include all WIC provider locations and identify all provider locations that are wheelchair accessible.
  2. DPH should develop policies and procedures to ensure that WIC provider information is updated on the website as it changes.
  3. DPH should implement controls to ensure that the provider location information on the WIC website is periodically reviewed for accuracy.

Finding 3

DPH’s process for identifying and notifying people who may be eligible for WIC benefits is not effective.


  1. DPH should modify its data-sharing process to include Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children recipients.
  2. DPH should implement a process to analyze whether postcards are an effective method of contacting potential WIC enrollees compared with other possible options, such as emails or text messages.
  3. DPH should adopt the revised data-matching method it found to improve the results of data matching.


A PDF copy of the audit of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services - Barriers to Access Public Benefit is available here.


1.   At the beginning of our audit work, the Department of Transitional Assistance was using a system within the VG, called Common Intake, to enroll consumers in multiple services, but that system was decommissioned in April 2018.





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