Like the auditor general, we, too, are curious about whether $5.2 million in welfare benefits spent in other states in May 2010 are legitimate.
And it's time the Department of Public Welfare releases the records so the state's fiscal watchdog can check them out.
Auditor General Jack Wagner complained last week that the welfare department has been stonewalling his office in its request for records on the 94,947 out-of-state purchases and cash withdrawals. Wagner said his office has requested documentation four times in 13 months.
The transactions in question were made using electronic benefits transfer cards and occurred in all 50 states, as well as the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. A press release from Wagner's office said that in May 2010, more than $4 million was spent or withdrawn using Pennsylvania EBT cards in 72,179 transactions in the six adjoining states.
The transactions in question are a small fraction of the roughly $200 million spent monthly on EBT cards issued by Pennsylvania. In May 2010, about 750,000 people had Pennsylvania EBT cards.
Even if the percentage of out-of-state purchases is small compared with the overall total, Pennsylvanians still deserve to know that the expenditures from their tax dollars are legitimate and lawful, especially considering that a 2009 special performance audit found weaknesses in the welfare department's handling of EBT cards.
No amount of fraud is too small to be overlooked.
If the records show that the expenditures were legitimate, taxpayers also deserve to know that. If not, then safeguards can be strengthened to ensure the benefits are being appropriately used.
The Auditor General's Office plays a critical role in ensuring Pennsylvania tax dollars are being lawfully spent. It's time for Gov. Tom Corbett to make sure his administrators in the Department of Public Welfare make the requested records available - or find new agency leaders who will.