Patrick administration seeks new head for Department of Transitional Assistance

The Patrick administration plans to name a new leader soon at the Department of Transitional Assistance after Daniel J. Curley resigned under pressure from Secretary of Health and Human Services John Polanowicz this week.

In a statement, Polanowicz said he was troubled by a number of issues that arose during Curley’s tenure as the leader of the state’s welfare agency, including a recent demand by the US Department of Agriculture that the state repay $27 million in misdirected benefits.

“I will be naming an interim commissioner and announcing new policies in the coming days,’’ Polanowicz said in a statement. “I intend for these steps to clearly indicate that we are accountable for taxpayer resources and seek to protect benefits for those who truly need them.’’


Polanowicz was sworn in by Governor Deval Patrick as the new leader of Health and Human Services on Jan. 22. His dismissal of Curley, which was first reported by the Boston Herald, is among the first major steps he has made since taking the oath of office.

The DTA was also the subject of a highly critical investigation by state Inspector General Glenn Cunha’s office, which found flaws in the way the DTA verified eligibility. Based on its sampling, the office projected that some eligibility errors could be found in the paperwork of about 33 percent of the recipients of the Transitional Aid to Families with Dependent Children (TAFDC).

Cunha said the problem his investigators found was not a weakness in the DTA’s rules. Instead, the issue was that DTA wasn’t complying with its own rules and also lacked the manpower needed to ensure recipients were actually eligible.

“The DTA needs someone who is committed to their enforcement of their policies,’’ Cunha said in an interview.

The report, which was requested by the Legislature, found that the DTA could not verify that about 5,000 of the 50,000 people receiving TAFDC continued to be eligible to receive the benefits, valued at about $25 million.


Cunha said that if DTA followed its own rules on eligibility verification, the state might find that everyone is qualified.

He also said the DTA and the state agency overseeing elementary and high schools can work together to match up the names of children whose families are getting benefits with school rosters as a means to cost-effectively verify eligibility.

House Republican Leader Bradley H. Jones, in a statement, endorsed both the inspector general’s report and Polanowicz’s decision to end Curley’s tenure.

“Change is absolutely essential to ensure that welfare benefits are reserved for the people who need them the most,’’ the North Reading Republican said. “The Inspector General’s comprehensive report has provided the Legislature with a blue print for action this session.’’

During last year’s hotly contested Senate race between Democrat Elizabeth Warren and Republican Scott Brown, the DTA sent out letters to 478,000 recipients alerting them about their voting rights, a mailing Brown argued was politically motivated.

According to the administration, 47,000 mailers were returned as undeliverable, but out of that total, the administration insists, only 3,000 recipients were not in compliance with DTA rules.

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