UPDATE: 80 of 103 state employees dismissed during Malloy’s Emergency Food Stamp Investigation reinstated.

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Rich Rochlin, the outspoken lawyer who defended many of the state employees accused and fired for receiving emergency food aid after the September 2011 hurricane, is announcing today that, following independent arbitration reviews, 80 of the 103 state employees who were fired or forced to resign or retire as a result of the food stamp investigation, have been reinstated and about 20 more cases are still in the review stage.

Many will remember the Great Food Stamp Robbery of 2011.

It warranted an “unprecedented” Sunday afternoon press conference in the Governor Office.

Announcing the start of a major state investigation into the matter, Governor Malloy said that the theft of the food stamps was part of a “Culture of Corruption” that had permeated state service.

The Governor’s Office, the Department of Social Services and the state’s labor relations operation kicked into high gear.

After spending thousands of hours and hundreds of thousands of dollars “investigating” the theft of the emergency food aid, more than a hundred state employees were fired or forced to retire or resign.

Meanwhile, from the very beginning of the process, the Governor’s Office sought to discredit and destroy Rich Rochlin reputation.

Early on, when Attorney Rochlin spoke out about serious errors in the way applications were processed and called for an independent investigation, Governor Malloy shot back saying, “if somebody is being paid $250 an hour to represent somebody, what do you think they’re going to say?”

And Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy’s chief advisor and spokesman, added that Rochlin’s efforts were nothing more than “a cheap attempt on his part to market his business“

Even Andrew McDonald, Malloy’s senor legal counsel, got into the act of calling attorney Rochlin names.

As attorney Rochlin continued to speak out about his belief that some state employees were being unfairly treated; the attack from the Governor’s Office became even more vitriolic and personal.

Roy Occhiogrosso called Attorney Rochlin, “everybody’s worst impression of a lawyer… He’s like a cartoon character…There are several pieces of silverware missing from the drawer.”

The next day, Occhiogrosso’s attacks got even uglier, when he went on the record saying that “this guy seems not to be playing with a full deck.”

And perhaps most amazingly of all, when Governor Malloy was asked about Occhiogrosso’s comments, he responded by saying “How many cards in a deck? Does that include the jokers?” Only after did he add, “I wouldn’t have used that terminology.”

Well, now eight months later, 80 of the 103 state employees have been reinstated and it is a pretty safe guess that even more employees will get their jobs back in the weeks ahead.

According to the Courant, “while some employees will receive unpaid suspensions ranging from about 15 to 60 days, they will not lose their benefits or seniority.  The independent arbitrator determined that the state’s vindictive approach led to a situation in which “the discipline imposed was too severe.”

And attorney Rochlin told the Courant, “it is clear to everyone who has followed this case that the Malloy administration has been engaged in an orchestrated and coordinated effort to attack these state employees in order to score political points…From his first emergency Sunday press conference to the shameful dismissal hearings, the public has witnessed what can happen when leaders refuse to listen to opposing viewpoints.  Now, for the second time, an independent arbitrator has confirmed what we have been saying since that Sunday press conference.”

Last check the Malloy Administration has not responded to the news, but one wonders whether they will ever reveal how many hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent on this useless vendetta.

For more background on how this issue developed, search Wait, What? with the words Rochlin or Food Stamps.

So what the heck is “The Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-SNAP)”

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Today, a second state employee faces a dismissal hearing and again the evidence is that the state employee was given inaccurate information and the application may even have been modified by the DSS worker to ensure the state employee qualified.

In all the rhetoric coming from the Malloy Administration about the clear and convincing evidence of widespread fraud by state employees using the D-SNAP program, as well as, the comments that there is a culture of corruption among state employees, I don’t recall seeing the Governor or his people provide any real details about the D-SNAP program.  When it comes to the type of accusations that have been leveled at state employees it would appear that ignorance is bliss.

Below is a quick review of the program taken from official United States Department of Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Service documents.  This is the federal agency that oversees the  D-SNAP program.  In addition, it appears that in 2009 significant changes to the rules and regulations concerning D-SNAP were implemented.

The mission of the D-SNAP program as defined by the USDA is that D-SNAP is there to ensure easy access to safe, nutritious foods for disaster survivors and that;

D-SNAP benefits are loaded on Electronic Benefit Transfer (EBT) cards for use at most grocery stores.

D-SNAP benefits are calculated to allow households to purchase a nutritious diet for 30 days.

D-SNAP benefits are available quickly after a disaster – usually after grocery stores open for business.

D-SNAP benefits are available to households who meet financial eligibility requirements and who have experienced a temporary loss of income, inaccessible resources or high disaster-related expenses – eligibility is not limited to households typically eligible for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

D-SNAP is implement following a Presidential disaster declaration

D-SNAP is operated by State Departments of Human Services in coordination with USDA’s Food and Nutrition Services (FNS).

States can design application and benefit delivery systems to respond to conditions on the ground. Application sites may be operated out of Department of Human Services offices, FEMA Disaster Recovery Centers, mass shelters, stadiums, or other large-capacity venues.

Benefits may be redeemed for groceries and, in some cases, for hot or prepared foods.

State Departments of Human Service can contract with non-profit organizations to outreach to the eligible public.

Unfortunately in this situation the Connecticut Department of Social Services had never engaged in a full D-SNAP operation and expected approximately 3,000 applicants for the program.  In fact, there were 20,000 applicants over the course of a few days and DSS workers with no connection to food stamp issues, let alone D-SNAP, were pulled in to process the applications as people stood in long lines.

The basic rules of Eligibility are as follows:

  • The person must have lived in the disaster area at the time of the disaster. States may also choose to extend eligibility to those who worked in the disaster area at the time of the disaster.
  • Recipients must plan on purchasing food during the benefit period
  • Recipients must have experienced at least one of the following adverse effects:
  • Food damaged by disaster event or spoiled due to power outage (A power outage lasting over 4 hours can cause food spoilage.)
  • Damage to or destruction of the household’s home or self-employment business
  • Disaster-related expenses not expected to be reimbursed during the benefit period (e.g., home or business repairs, temporary shelter expenses, evacuation expenses, home/business protection, disaster-related personal injury including funeral expenses)
  • Lost or inaccessible income, including reduction or termination of income, or a delay in receipt of income for half the benefit period.
  • Inaccessible liquid resources (e.g., the bank is closed due to the disaster).
  • The income test for the program is as follows:
    •  Total net (take-home) income received during the benefit period, plus accessible liquid resources, minus certain disaster-related expenses (disaster related expenses actually paid or anticipated to be paid out-of-pocket during the disaster benefit period) shall not exceed the disaster gross income limit.
    • Net income Includes the wages a household actually receives after taxes and all other payroll withholding, public assistance payments or other unearned income, and a net self-employment income.
    • Disaster related expenses are those expenses that the household has paid or expects to pay during the disaster benefit period, however, If the household receives or anticipates receiving a reimbursement for these expenses during the disaster period, only the net expense is deductible. The period for which disaster benefits are issued (usually one month).

The rules and regulations proceed from there – but that should give us all a basic sense of what the program is meant to cover.

Now it is the responsibility of the state to prove that the state employees accused of fraud intended to steal these emergency food stamps and that the wide-spread misinformation provided by DSS did not play a role in the state employee having qualified.

Oh and PS – applicants were never provided with these guidelines.  They were only given the application forms to fill out.

Latest Update: State’s First Case Against Food Stamp Robber Is A Farce

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Lisa Prout, the state employee accused of stealing $524 in food stamp aid, awaits the decision from her dismissal hearing. But the state’s case has taken an extraordinary turn of events. 

The accusation is that she “fraudulently obtained benefits through the state of Connecticut’s Department of Social Services administration of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-Snap) in violation of DHMAS work rule #2 and State of Connecticut Personnel Regulation 5-240-1a.”

Considering that this was the first case going to a dismissal hearing, one would have assumed that the Malloy Administration was starting with one of their strongest cases.  In politics you simply don’t deliver the kind of harsh rhetoric that has been coming from the Governor and his people and then risk losing the case.

But at today’s hearing, the state’s case against the state employee proved to be a farce:

From CTNewsjunkie comes the following:

“Lisa Prout, who has worked for 11 years at the hospital and is a single-mother of two, said she would have never lied about her income in order to qualify for $524 in benefits. She claims the Department of Social Services eligibility worker changed her application and failed to count the $1,200 she disclosed on the form as money she had in the bank to pay her expenses.”

“An East Hampton resident Prout said she was without power for nine days and she applied for the food stamps on the very last day in September at which point she received a voucher. When she returned the next day she was given a debt card with $524 on it.

She said she would happily return that money to the state if it meant she got to keep her job.

“I was ushered through the application process like a piece of meat through a processing plant and the DSS worker provided me with guidance in completing the application,” Prout said. “I did nothing wrong; I have been treated unfairly; and my family is suffering.”

Her story confirms the fact that the DSS workers who were responsible for processing 20,000 applications (when 2,000 were expected) had limited training and had never dealt with this particular program before.

In this case, faulty information from a DSS worker appears to have led this single mom to believe that she and her children met the required standard to receive emergency food aid in the wake of Hurricane Irene when, in fact, she did not.

Finally, after all the rhetoric and condemnation of state employees emanating from the Malloy Administration over the last few weeks, upon hearing the news about today’s developments, the  Malloy press team “declined to comment” on individual cases.

More at:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/worker_accused_of_fraud_waits_for_decision/.  

Woman “steals” $524 and is fired from her state position; Man “steals” $450 dollars and is ordered to pay it back but gets to keep his state job.

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UPDATE:  The CTNewsjunkie story on today’s food stamp robber dismissal hearing is up:  http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/ctnj.php/archives/entry/worker_accused_of_fraud_waits_for_decision/.  

As of moments ago no ruling has been made but the state employee did get a chance to lay out the facts: 

“Lisa Prout, who has worked for 11 years at the hospital and is a single-mother of two, said she would have never lied about her income in order to qualify for $524 in benefits. She claims the Department of Social Services eligibility worker changed her application and failed to count the $1,200 she disclosed on the form as money she had in the bank to pay her expenses.”

“An East Hampton resident Prout said she was without power for nine days and she applied for the food stamps on the very last day in September at which point she received a voucher. When she returned the next day she was given a debt card with $524 on it.

She said she would happily return that money to the state if it meant she got to keep her job.

“I was ushered through the application process like a piece of meat through a processing plant and the DSS worker provided me with guidance in completing the application,” Prout said. “I did nothing wrong; I have been treated unfairly; and my family is suffering.”

“Malloy’s office declined to comment on individual cases”

Background:

The accusation is that she “fraudulently obtained benefits through the state of Connecticut’s Department of Social Services administration of the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (D-Snap) in violation of DHMAS work rule #2 and State of Connecticut Personnel Regulation 5-240-1a.”

Considering that this is the first case going to a dismissal hearing, the Malloy Administration is probably using one of their strongest cases.  In politics you simply don’t deliver the kind of harsh rhetoric that has been coming from the Governor and his people and then risk losing the case.

For her part, the single-mom with an unblemished record of state service will undoubtedly respond by telling her story which, considering the information that has surfaced to date, will be to point out the fact that the DSS workers who were responsible for processing 20,000 applications (when 2,000 were expected) had limited training and had never dealt with this particular program before.

In this case, faulty information from a DSS worker appears to have led the woman to believe that she and her children met the required standard to receive emergency food aid in the wake of Hurricane Irene when, in fact, she did not.

One can assume that after today’s hearing she will be immediately terminated thereby laying the foundation for the next set of state employee food stamp cases.

Now juxtaposition her story with what occurred last week to the male Human Resources Manager for Connecticut’s Military Department.

In this case, the state employee who knew or should have known the law about using state resources for personal use had used a state-owned gymnasium “for his own (and his family’s) personal use on multiple occasions in 2008 and 2009 without paying the required rental fees.”

The HR manager was ordered to pay $450 in penalties for his violation of Connecticut state law and will remain on the state payroll.

Yesterday the Governor reiterated his commitment to the notion that these state employees are innocent until proven guilty saying “everyone is entitled to due process, but if these allegations prove true, it constitutes a serious violation of the public trust.”

It appears that the definition of a “serious violation of public trust” here in Connecticut would be better described as a loose set of general guidelines rather than an exact rule.

Food Stamp Saga Takes Bizarre Twist

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 It is not a daily show segment yet, but it sure would qualify.

In the most bizarre than yet, it turns out Malloy’s chief advisor – Roy Occhiogrosso – failed to reveal that the lawyer he, the Governor and the Governor’s Legal Counsel have been blasting for representing state employees in the food stamp controversy once his as in own attorney just last year.

Governor Dan Malloy,  Andrew McDonald, Malloy’s legal counsel and Roy Occhiogrosso have spent that last few days making series allegations and call this attorney names.  The attorney who represents a number of the state employees who are alleged to have lied to get food stamps.

When Rich Rochlin, the lawyer representing a number of state employees, identified serious errors in the way applications were processed, he called for an independent investigation about the food stamp situation.  Malloy shot back telling the CTMirror that “If somebody is being paid $250 an hour to represent somebody, what do you think they’re going to say?”

Meanwhile, Occhiogrosso said the attorney’s actions were “a cheap attempt on his part to market his business“

And Andrew McDonald, Malloy’s legal counsel said Attorney Rochlin’s call for an independent investigation was part of a “marketing efforts”

It was a rather lame attempt to paint the attorney as nothing short of an ambulance chaser.

Well, it turns out the individual the Malloy Administration has been mocking was hired by Occhiogrosso last year to represent him in a suit against a home contractor.  A point Occhiogrosso never revealed until confronted with the news by a reporter.

When asked about this bizarre development, Occhiogrosso told the Courant “The guy is everybody’s worst impression of a lawyer…He’s like a cartoon character. Hopefully, this guy’s 15 minutes of fame are up soon. … There are several pieces of silverware missing from the drawer.’’

According to the Courant,  Occhiogrosso went on to say “As to what happens to Rich Rochlin, hopefully he just goes away. He’s achieved his objective. This has been a fairly unusual and odd marketing campaign. We’re done dealing with him.’’

We’re done dealing with him?

What is this – a Banana Republic?

When did it become okay for a high ranking official to keep secret his past dealings with someone who is now condemning as a fraud.

For more on this story check the morning websites.

And to top it all off, the Judicial Department’s list of cases includes the following:

ROY OCCHIOGROSSO
 Attorney: TABOADA ROCHLIN LLP(429780)
1224 MILL STREET
BUILDING D SUITE 200
EAST BERLIN, CT 06023