Audit shows some prisoners abuse public assistance

Jul 8 2013 - 11:15pm

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SALT LAKE CITY -- A small percentage of people in state prisons are illegally receiving public assistance, a state audit released Monday shows.

The audit shows approximately 2 percent of the inmate population supervised by the Utah Department of Corrections and 25 percent of the fugitives supervised by the UDC, received public assistance illegally during January 2012. The probe showed 414 public assistance benefits were active for 281 fugitives, while 209 public assistance benefits were active for 179 inmates.

Two specific instances of abuse were highlighted, one where an inmate received $200 each month for 14 months for food stamps and another where an inmate received six months of food stamps and medical benefits while incarcerated.

The probe was conducted during a data match review of public assistance services with people supervised by the UDC. In most cases the abuse appeared to be food stamps and medical assistance, the audit said. The audit said the state's Department of Workforce Services should conduct a periodic review of fugitives and inmates receiving public assistance and should provide the Legislature with a cost-benefit analysis of new oversight measures. It also encouraged state and federal agencies to engage in appropriate data sharing.

Geoffrey Landward, deputy director of the DWS, said state officials will try to find an appropriate balance in spending resources to check eligibility for programs. He said state officials need to be careful in looking at data to make sure they don't take people off benefits who should get them.

"We do take it very seriously. We want to make sure only those who are eligible are receiving benefits," Landward said.

Senate President Wayne Niederhauser, R-Sandy, praised auditors for their findings and said it appears there are people receiving food stamps who probably shouldn't.

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