BOSTON (FOX 25 / MyFoxBoston.com) – Governor Deval Patrick is downplaying the Department of Transitional Assistance admission that it could not locate 19,000 people who have either been receiving welfare benefits or have applied for them, saying the number represents a "broader class of people than those who are actually on the rolls today."
At a news conference, the Governor kept referring to the number of people whose addresses could not be located as just "four percent" of the mailings.
This was discovered after nearly half a million letters were sent out to settle a lawsuit filed against Massachusetts last year in part by the liberal think tank, "Demos."
The Department of Transitional Assistance says 19,000 letters came back, marked "Return to Sender."
A spokesman for the Executive Office of Health and Human Services says 11,262 people were either already off the rolls or had never been approved for benefits. It also says 7,738 were returned with forwarding addresses. Still, Governor Patrick says people should continue to have confidence in the state's ability to oversee welfare benefits.
Fox 25's Political Reporter Sharman Sacchetti asked the Governor about it.
Sacchetti: Why should taxpayers have any confidence that the state can effectively oversee this system when we apparently can't even locate 19-thousand people?
Governor: Voting information was sent to a very broad group of people, not all of whom are actual recipients of benefits today. They were sent as a result of a settlement in a lawsuit, anyone who had any interaction with the welfare system in the last year. Not all of those people are still on the rolls. Many if not most people receive their benefits electronically not by mail, but for the four percent of mailings that were returned, you bet your life we're going to scrub through them and make sure the information we have is up to date.
Sacchetti: But the four percent, 19-thousand people, is enough to fill the Boston Garden...
Governor: It's a lot of people, it's a lot of people, not all of whom do you or I know are actually on the welfare list today.
Sacchetti: But isn't that the point, we just don't know?
Governor: No, the point is that under the settlement, we had to send mailings to a broader class of people than those who are actually on the rolls today. So there is information we should pay attention to today from the return of those mailings but it may not actually be indicative of a problem, but we'll know that when we do the scrubbing.
Sacchetti: Should people continue to have confidence in this?
The group filed suit against Massachusetts because the DTA was not giving welfare recipients the opportunity to register to vote. That suit was filed on behalf of a Lowell woman who said she was never offered an opportunity to register to vote.
As part of the settlement, the state agreed to mail out 478,000 letters to welfare recipients, at a cost of $276,000. The daughter of Senator Elizabeth Warren, Amelia Tyagi, is chairwoman of the Board of the advocacy group. During the senate campaign, then Senator Scott Brown criticized the state, arguing the mass mailing was a plan to push more democratic voters to the polls.