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Boston — State Auditor Suzanne M. Bump today announced an initiative to build on her office’s efforts to strengthen the Massachusetts social safety net.
The expanded efforts will concentrate on three areas:
1. Continuing to identify and crack down on fraud in public benefits programs;
2. Expanding information sharing with our partners and increasing our use of data analytics to identify fraud and concentrate on the areas most susceptible to fraud; and
3. Conducting an audit in the coming year to identify barriers eligible Bay State residents face when seeking access to public benefits.
To kick off this effort, Bump today released an annual report on her office’s efforts to identify fraud in these programs.
“From food assistance to medical care, public benefits play an important role in our state, the lives of its residents, and our economy,” Bump said. “It is essential that these programs operate with integrity. That means fighting abuse and fraud, but it also requires that we work to identify the barriers that prohibit Massachusetts residents from accessing benefits for which they are eligible. This is why, in the coming year, we will undertake an audit to understand how effectively government is identifying those eligible persons who are not being served.”
The report released today notes that in fiscal year 2016, the Bureau of Special Investigations (BSI) identified a record $15.4 million in public benefits fraud, marking a 12 percent increase over the previous year, and a sixth straight year of record-setting findings. In addition, the report highlights that for every dollar invested into BSI, it found $7.06 in fraud, a 14 percent increase over the previous year. Finally, the report notes that for investigations with findings of fraud, the average finding was $14,783, a 21 percent increase over the previous year.
“Since 2011, my office has increased the amount of fraud it has identified every year,” Bump said of the report. “This is not an indication of more fraud, but that we are getting better at identifying it. We have accomplished this by focusing our efforts on the areas of greatest risk for substantial fraud such as food stamp trafficking, and fraudulent provider billing.”
BSI examiners work with state and federal agencies, including the Department of Transitional Assistance, MassHealth, the Department of Early Education and Care, the US Department of Agriculture, both the US and Massachusetts Attorneys General, and other government agencies to document fraudulent activity. Investigations focus both on tips related to individual recipient fraud, as well as provider fraud. The work leads to both prosecution and recovery of funds.
The report also underscores notable achievements and case highlights of BSI. One case highlighted in the report describes a Rhode Island resident who was charged with fraudulently receiving benefits in excess of $60,000 from 2012 to 2015 from the state of Massachusetts. He falsely claimed to be a resident of the Commonwealth, and improperly reported his earned income.
While the majority of investigations of public assistance fraud come from referrals from MassHealth, the Department of Transitional Assistance, or the use of data analytics, the public can also file a complaint through the BSI fraud hotline at (617) 727-6771 or by sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. All complaints are confidential.
The BSI FY2016 Annual Report is available here.
More information about Bump’s office’s expanded efforts related to public benefits is available here.