HARRISBURG - Four years after auditors found criminal abuses in the state's home heating assistance program, benefits are still going to Pennsylvanians who do not meet eligibility guidelines, including some who applied using the Social Security numbers of dead people.
That's what state Auditor General Jack Wagner says his office found in its latest look at the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP).
State welfare officials' oversight of LIHEAP has not improved, Wagner said Wednesday. His auditors' report told of a case in which someone who died in 1999 was approved for $1,000 in LIHEAP benefits in 2010. Another applicant applied twice with different Social Security numbers and was approved twice.
Wagner, a Democrat, criticized oversight of LIHEAP by fellow Democrat Ed Rendell's administration as well as that of Rendell's Republican successor, Gov. Corbett. Wagner contended that Corbett's welfare secretary, Gary Alexander, had mounted a "campaign of denial" and had not moved quickly to fix LIHEAP.
Alexander's office issued a statement Wednesday disputing some of Wagner's findings but saying the welfare department was "looking into the report and is continuing to find ways to stop fraud."
Wagner's auditors said a $203,500 no-bid contract went to a Philadelphia law firm, Hangley Aronchick Segal & Pudlin, that subcontracted accountants who did not sufficiently document their work and seldom made on-site visits required by the contract. Wagner said he did not blame the firm but chided welfare officials for no-bid contracts and slack oversight.
The contract was enacted under Rendell. A partner in the firm, former Philadelphia City Solicitor Mark Aronchick, has been a major fund-raiser for Rendell's and other Democrats' campaigns for years. The firm did not respond Wednesday to messages seeking comment.