SALT LAKE CITY -- A new report says hundreds of Utah fugitives and inmates are receiving public assistance despite generally being barred from receiving those benefits.
The report released Monday by the Office of the Legislative Auditor General looked at a sample of Utah's inmates and fugitives during one month last year.
Auditing staff found 179 inmates and 281 fugitives received public assistance benefits during January 2012.
Of the 460 fugitives and inmates incorrectly allowed into welfare programs, some were actively using the money while others were authorized but never paid, investigators said.
Most of the individuals flagged in the report were enrolled in food stamps or medical benefits.
One example noted by the report found an inmate receiving $200 a month in food stamp payments for more than a year while incarcerated. The audit notes someone was spending that money every month, but the auditors say in the report that they assume someone was using it on behalf of the inmate.
The audit was limited to inmates held by the state or fugitives under Utah Department of Corrections supervision who have violated probation or parole, have a warrant out for their arrest or have fled to avoid prosecution or custody.
The audit notes that the report is limited and represents only a portion of the population. Auditors say "concerns raised in this report would be greatly amplified," if the entire population of Utah inmates and fugitives is improperly receiving welfare at a rate similar to the population sampled in the report.
For example, auditors only looked at the 1,100 fugitives supervised by the UDC, but note that as of June 2013, there were about 216,000 fugitives, according to Department of Public Safety numbers.
Kade Minchey, the audit supervisor, told lawmakers on Monday that it's likely most of those people were already receiving benefits and then became fugitives, but once they were, they shouldn't have been receiving those benefits.
The inmates highlighted in the report may have been receiving benefits for their families, auditing staff said, but their family members should have reapplied once their family member was imprisoned.
The audit recommends that the Department of Workforce Services, which administers public assistance benefits, take steps to prevent the improper dispensing of benefits in the future by matching data with the Utah Department of Corrections and other agencies.
The Workforce Services Department already compares their list of public assistance recipients against government records, but the agency is working with the prison and jail system to see if there are more steps they can take to prevent the issue in the future, spokesman Nic Dunn said in a statement.
Dunn noted the number of people flagged in the audit is a small number of those receiving welfare, representing roughly .12 percent of the population the department serves. He also noted that the study only looked at data for one month, so it is hard to conclude whether it's a persistent problem.