Welfare Recipients: Dead and Loving it

It is all but unanimous in the media and among Democrats and Republicans alike: the dead welfare recipients scandal detailed by State Auditor Suzanne Bump is big, very big, huge in fact, so incomprehensibly beyond-the-imagination humongously huge that Auditor Bump herself says, as reported by the Boston Globe columnist Adrian Walker, “Relative to program size, it frankly isn’t big dollars. With everything we are identifying as problematic, it’s a tiny fraction.”


The actual fraud involved is, as Auditor Bump says, a “tiny fraction.” But the political impact is outsized.

It’s a very complicated story with multiple avenues of fraudulent activity uncovered but the eye catcher is dead welfare recipients so let’s stick with that.

The Globe’s front page story Wednesday leads with “Massachusetts gave millions of dollars in questionable public assis­tance to people who were listed as dead, used multiple Social Security numbers to boost their payments, or apparently sold their benefit cards for cash over the past few years.” If you weren’t so blinded by rage that you were able to reach the third paragraph you found out that “Bump’s audit found that 1,160 recipients were either dead or used a deceased person’s Social Security number, costing $2.4 million ­between July 2010 and April 2012.”

Numbers don’t lie, right? But then we find out that about $1.7 billion a year is spent on state welfare programs annually and Auditor Bump says that the bulk of that was spent properly.

$1.7 billion is a pretty healthy number. That would be a bit under $141 million per month, or from July 2010 through April 2012 about $3.1 billion in welfare spending. On a per month basis out of $141 million DTA would have averaged about $109,000 to keep the dead in the life to which they had become accustomed. So the 1,160 faux dead were a pretty good buy.

Read further down (and in the Walker column too) and we see that the Department of Transitional Assistance hasn’t been provided with the names of the 1,160 deceased but grateful recipients, but has been given a sample of 178 of the active dead. Acting DTA director Stacey Monahan stated that the 178 were a mix of people who should have been dropped earlier, some who had already been dropped, duplicate names, and . . . ugh, the undead. HHS Secretary John Polanowicz stated that “of the 178 names, almost half were not dead and 17 involved people still receiving benefits on behalf of the deceased when the department got the audit. State officials said the department has subsequently closed those 17 cases.”

Wait . .  . half of Auditor Bump’s dead, are undead?

The Globe also reports that about 855,000 individuals receive DTA benefits each year. So let’s say that all of 1,160 Bump dead were actual dead. So there would be about one thousandths of DTA recipients collecting past their expiration date.

The politics of all this have got nearly everyone in politics in a high state, though. Auditor Bump, to complete the “tiny fraction” quote above, went on that “But the size doesn’t matter, when you’re taking about integrity issues.” Senate Minority Leader Bruce Tarr said the legislature may have to increase DTA funding for anti-fraud measures in order to protect the integrity of the system. Interim Director Monahan says that “One dollar in fraud is too much.”

Now I don’t want to sound either pro-dead or pro-fraud, but how many dollars is it going to cost us to prevent that one dollar of fraud?

Is this a huge budgetary problem? Two and a half million dollars out of a $3.1 billion dollar outlay says it isn’t. Is it a vast case of a caring public being duped out of their hard-earned tax dollars by high-living fraudulently deceased welfare frauds? About 1100(?) of 855,000 recipients says it isn’t.

But we don’t like welfare recipients, in fact we resent them. We bust our asses, they live off us. It isn’t fair. Figure race in here somewhere. The Tsarnaevs were on DTA, for God’s sakes!

Yes, dead welfare recipients are a crisis, alright. A political crisis.





About Maurice T. Cunningham

Maurice T. Cunningham is Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. He teaches courses in American government including Massachusetts Politics, The American Presidency, Catholics in Political Life, The Political Thought of Abraham Lincoln, American Political Thought, and Public Policy. His book Maximization, Whatever the Cost: Race, Redistricting and the Department of Justice examines the role of the DOJ in requiring states to maximize minority voting districts in the Nineties. He has published articles dealing with the role of the Catholic Church in Massachusetts politics and on party politics in the state. His research interests focus upon the changing political culture of Massachusetts.
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