A dustup over welfare zombies in Pa.

    Pennsylvania’s top fiscal watchdog and human services czar are clashing over an early audit report.

    The source of the disagreement? Dead people.

    Specifically, top officials are clashing over an ongoing audit showing some of the state’s electronic benefit cards are registered under dead people.

    Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said the state lost more than $200,000 during a nine-month period beginning in 2011. Benefits such as food stamps and cash assistance were accessed with accounts that, by his office’s lights, shouldn’t be open. The cards used are known as Access Cards.

    “What we found, specifically dealing with the Access Card, was recipients’ Social Security numbers matching the Social Security numbers of 138 deceased individuals,” said DePasquale at a press conference Tuesday.

    Department of Public Welfare Secretary Bev Mackereth was ready with a rebuttal.

    She said her office has more closely examined the 138 cases flagged by the Department of the Auditor General since receiving them in early May.

    “Fifty percent of those are alive and eligible for services,” Mackereth said. “We found five fraud cases.”

    A DPW spokeswoman said about 20 percent of the 138 flagged accounts have been closed because the person registered was ineligible, and steps have been taken to rectify problems with the remaining roughly 25 percent of cases.

    Mackereth said the DPW oversees 2.7 million benefit card accounts across the state.

    During the press conference, DePasquale said he hadn’t received an explanation for the 138 cards that appeared to be linked to identifying information of the deceased.

    “They promised us that we would get information to confirm whether their point of view or our point of view was accurate,” said DePasquale of DPW. “That was a month and a half ago and we have yet to receive that information.”

    Mackereth said she wasn’t sure why her office didn’t give more details to the auditor general, but she said she wasn’t aware of any set timeline. In a letter from DPW dated June 3, the agency claimed it was still reviewing the 138 cases.

    Mackereth also noted that the report shared by DePasquale is not final, but a mere snapshot of an audit expected to continue into 2015.

    “In no way am I saying that this is not something we absolutely should look at,” said Mackereth. “We did look at it. We did follow up with it.”

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