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Hartford DDS probe expands as more boxes found

November 29, 2012 4:31:22 AM PST
The Department of Social Services said Wednesday there were approximately 125 boxes of unprocessed welfare and food stamp forms, including some with requests for voter registration assistance, found at the agency's regional office in Hartford.

David Dearborn, a spokesman for the agency, said the boxes have been transported from the regional office to central administration for a detailed review and follow-up. Some of the boxes were found in a conference room.

He could not say how many documents, some dating back to 2009, were inside the boxes.

The Associated Press first reported on Tuesday that five DSS officials were placed on paid administrative leave after the boxes were discovered. Three managerial and two human resources workers are now under investigation, including the office's former regional administrator. DSS has not released the names. Administrative leave is a neutral action pending a personnel probe.

Dearborn said a low-level supervisor initially alerted office management last week about the boxes of unprocessed forms, but the commissioner's office only learned of them "through informal channels" involving an unnamed third party.

On Wednesday, Secretary of the State Denise Merrill called it disturbing that requests for help with voter registration were found within the boxes unprocessed welfare and food stamp applications.

Merrill said she plans to meet with the various state agencies designated as voter registration agencies under the so-called federal "motor-voter act," which took effect in 1995, to make sure they are fulfilling their duty and abiding by the law.

"They are required under federal law and it is very disturbing to think that some very poor people would be disenfranchised by this," Merrill said. "That was the whole point of the motor voter act."

Merrill said her office has "heard hints about this sort of thing before."

A state act that implements the federal law requires DSS and the Departments of Motor Vehicles and Labor, as well as public libraries, to make voter registration information and materials available to the public. Other state agencies, including the Department of Correction, are also providing voter information to inmates re-entering the community.

In a memo this week to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's chief of staff, DSS Commissioner Roderick Bremby said the fact that a low-level supervisor's internal alert had to be communicated to his office by "a third-party colleague" before attention was given to the problem "underscores the need for wholesale review of the management in Hartford."

DSS staff are now cross-checking the discovered documents to see if any applicants were not served. That review may take a week to 10 days.

Merrill said her office was not notified by DSS about the unprocessed voter forms, which request assistance with registering to vote. She said it's up to the state agency to follow up with the recipient and help them with registration. Typically the request for help accompanies applications for food stamps and other benefits.

A message was left with the State Elections Enforcement Commission, asking whether the watchdog agency plans to investigate.

The Hartford regional DSS office is the state's largest. Besides Hartford, it serves Avon, Bloomfield, Canton, Farmington, East Granby, Granby, Newington, Rocky Hill, Simsbury, Suffield, West Hartford, Wethersfield, Windsor and Windsor Locks.

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