NEW: Block Fraud Report Reveals Little New Information
Wednesday, March 13, 2013
The biggest pieces of news in the 16-page study were allegations that 60 incarcerated inmates were continuing to receive food stamp benefits while behind bars, a total of $1.7 million in benefits went underreported to the Providence Housing Authority and a lack of cooperation between state and federal agencies has proven to be an obstacle in pursuing instances of fraud.
Speaking for an hour with a packed room of reporters and General Assembly members, Chafee said he would have preferred the results stay under the radar while his administration continues to investigate the matter, but was forced to relent to numerous calls for the study to be released in an effort to “clear the air.”
“My preference was to do our work effectively with law enforcement but with allegations of cover ups and the crazy level of comments being made,” he said. “I wanted to clear the air and on we go.”
Chafee said the report was always meant as an extra tool for his administration in its ongoing fight against abuse of state funds and not a game-changer that would reveal dramatic results.
“The Simpatico study, which has generated so much media attention, was a recent step in this ongoing process,” he said. “It has been helpful in providing my administration with further direction on which areas to pursue, but in reality it is one small piece of what we have been doing for years and will continue to do.”
Chafee also introduced four pieces of legislation he says he will work with lawmakers to pass in an effort to dig at the root causes of fraud and abuse uncovered both by the Block report and in his administration’s investigation into the matter over the years.
The first would establish a program integrity division within the Office of Health and Human Services to better coordinate state and local agencies, law enforcement entitites and investigative units to increase the “prevention, detection, and prosecution of Medicaid and public assistance fraud.”
Second, Chafee is proposing an initiative to require the Office of Management and Budget to map the enrollment and funding process for Medicaid and public assistance programs to help identify areas where vulnerabilities to fraud “may exist,” and provide recommendations on how to eliminate those potential vulnerabilities.
Third, and perhaps most controversial, is an initiative that would prohibit the use of EBT cards at “certain places,” like liquor stores, gambling facilities and retail establishments which provide “adult-oriented entertainment,” among others.
Lastly, the Governor is proposing a piece of legislation to address some of the sharing issues between state issues found in the Block report.
Senator James Sheehan, who was an outspoken opponent of Chafee’s initial decision not to release the Block report, said he was pleased the Governor changed his mind in an effort to “balance the need for prudence and responsibility to root out fraud and abuse with the equally compelling need for transparency and accountability in government.
“It is sometimes said that sunshine is the best disinfectant,” Sheehan said. “As the new Chairman and former Vice Chairman of the Government Oversight Committee, I have seen the importance of shining a light on government entities. Transparency is essential to the goal of achieving efficient and effective systems of government. Openness and accountability are the hallmarks of an effective representative democracy.
“Just as this report will help to eliminate fraud and waste from the state’s human services programs, the release of this report will help to provide accountability and confidence among the public.”
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