HARRISBURG - The state paid several hundred thousand dollars in public assistance in a 12-month period to the accounts of more than 2,000 recipients who had died, Auditor General Eugene DePasquale said Thursday.

DePasquale, a Democrat who is running for reelection against Republican John Brown, said the state needs to do more to protect taxpayers and make sure assistance goes to those who need it.

His report found that between July 2013 and June 2014, 2,324 people who had been dead at least 60 days received a total of $693,161 on their Electronic Benefits Transfer cards.

The Department of Human Services, which runs the program, said that payment total was incorrect, adding that the Auditor General's Office did not provide it with the exact methodology it had used.

When the department examined the data in the audit, it said, it found that it had made approximately $331,432 in incorrect payments to the EBT cards through the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and that it represented only about 0.01 percent of the state's SNAP payments. DHS said it has about a million cardholders in any given year.

DHS spokeswoman Kait Gillis said the department then took back $681,660 in unspent money from those EBT cards, the result of account inactivity.

DHS Secretary Ted Dallas said that the department recently enacted a change to stop benefits to a single-person household as soon as the department confirms the person's death. Previously, he said, the department followed a federally approved policy that postpones the change until the next scheduled reassessment of the person's benefits.

Of the 2,324 cases in which cardholders continued to receive benefits after their deaths, the Auditor General's Office looked at 20 single-person households and found that in nine of those cases, benefits were spent after the date of death. The other 11 cases showed no benefits spent after the cardholder died, the office said.